New measurements show moon has hazardous radiation levels

Eloise Marshall
September 27, 2020

Eventually, NASA plans to send astronauts to the moon for a few months. High radiation exposure in a spacesuit DLR radiation physicist Thomas Berger from the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine, who participated in the publication explains: "The radiation exposure we measured is a good indication of the radiation inside a spacesuit". This was the first time that scientists were able to give an exact number to the amount of Moon radiation that astronauts endure when exploring the lunar surface.

The device developed by Berger and his colleagues was attached to China's Chang'e-4 lunar probe, which touched down on the far side of the moon early past year.

"On the surface of the Moon, this (space radiation) consists of the chronic exposure to galactic cosmic rays and sporadic particle events".

The Chang'e-Four lunar probe, photographed from the Yutu-2 rover.

However, the astronauts' risk of getting cancer and other diseases could be reduced using lunar habitats during long-term stays on the Moon.

The measurements show an equivalent dose of about 60 microsieverts per hours. The measuring device from Kiel is located on the left behind the antenna. For comparison, during a long-haul flight from Frankfurt to NY, the dose rate is five to 10 times lower than this. "That is about the same amount of radiation astronauts receive at the ISS (over five months) and wouldn't be incredibly unsafe", says coauthor Robert Wimmer-Schweingruber, a physicist at Christian Albrechts University in Kiel, Germany.

The Moon is the next stepping stone for human space exploration.

This level of effective radiation in a day is hard to picture (check out this excellent XKCD infographic for some more comparisons, ranging from eating a banana, to dental X-rays, to spending a couple of weeks at Fukushima), but it is higher than what the Environmental Protection Agency expects an average American to be exposed to in one year (1 milliSievert).

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In a detailed outline released this week, NASA said the first pair of astronauts to land on the moon under the new Artemis program would spend about a week on the lunar surface, more than twice as long as the Apollo crews did a half-century ago.

The measurements were taken during the lunar "daylight".

Data from the device and the lander is still being transmitted back to Earth via the relay satellite Queqiao.

The data obtained also has some relevance with respect to future interplanetary missions.

Wimmer-Schweingruber said the radiation levels are close to what models had predicted.

"For example, if a manned mission departs to Mars, the new findings enable us to reliably estimate the anticipated radiation exposure in advance", he said. "That's why it is important that our detector also allows us to measure the composition of the radiation", said Wimmer-Schweingruber.

The work on the LND was funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) under funding code 50JR1604, based on a decision by the German Bundestag (federal parliament). Further travel into the solar system is fraught by many perils, technological and natural alike, with space radiation being a major threat.

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