Particles zipping through space could be the wrong stuff for Mars astronauts.
A study using mice found these high-energy particles slice through the brain. They pruned back connections linking brain cells. This left the animals with memory and learning problems. The study’s authors now worry that astronauts could suffer similar effects on long missions outside Earth’s protective atmosphere. One example: traveling to Mars.
The explosion of massive stars creates cosmic rays. This energetic radiation consists of electrically charged particles. Traveling through space at nearly the speed of light, theis radiation would bombard a spacecraft and its astronauts. For how long? Well, a human mission to Mars could last between one and three years, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration estimates.
Six weeks later, the mice showed memory problems. They had a harder time recognizing new toys than did unzapped mice. They also did a poorer job of remembering where a toy had been. Details appeared May 1 in Science Advances.
Visible brain damage also showed up. The radiation shortened the complex branches on nerve cells that receive messages. It also left these brain cells with fewer branches, the team found. “We weren’t expecting such dramatic effects from these charged particles,” says Limoli.
By Alex Tortosa