Astronauts Bound For Mars Could Suffer Brain Damage From Cosmic Rays

Astronauts traveling to Mars may face more dangers than previously realized, according to a new study which contends that long-term exposure to radiation from cosmic rays could result in brain damage among space explorers.

Recent experiments on mice have shed light on the potential dangers that astronauts bound for Mars could face, the LA Times reports. As part of a study detailed in a new article, What Happens To Your Brain On The Way To Mars published in the journal Science Advances, UC Irvine neuroscientist Charles Limoli and his colleagues exposed a group of mice to the same types of radiation that astronauts would likely encounter on their 34-million-mile trip.

The results, unfortunately, were far from encouraging. After being exposed to the radiation, the mice showed signs of cognitive changes, which impaired their ability to learn and recall information. As the researchers point out, this implies that astronauts dispatched to Mars could potentially face catastrophic mental impairments.

“Over the course of a two- to three-year mission, the damage would accumulate,” Limoli pointed out. “To mitigate it, we need to understand it.”

As Discover notes, cosmic rays are a form of ionizing radiation. Electrically charging atoms of matter as they pass through, these rays can cause severe damage in the human body. Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere protect us from them, and even astronauts in low-Earth orbit are shielded from the most caustic effects of cosmic rays, but astronauts bound for Mars would be exposed to much higher levels of radiation.

The tests were conducted at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory in New York, and after the researchers studied the behavioral aspects of exposure, they examined the test animals’ brains. They found that the mice exhibited lower density among the branches of their brain cells, a structural change that could affect an astronaut’s ability to process information.

NASA continues to work toward a manned mission to Mars, as the Inquisitr has previously reported, and the findings of researchers like Limoli and his team are of paramount concern. As a result of their work, astronauts embarking on a journey to the red planet may find themselves taking advantage of special shielding or drug treatments to counteract the effects of cosmic radiation on the way to Mars.

[Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech via CBS News]