On Earth, we are protected from a multitude of hazardous cosmic particles and rays, specifically the cancer-causing UV rays of the Sun and the brain frying effect of cosmic rays. If we venture outside our home planet’s protection, we come across a space filled with new threats. Though these harmful rays and particles may be invisible, but their detrimental effect is bound to give you a change of heart about space exploration.
The Journal Science Advances, published a new study by Charles Limoli, a radiation oncology professor at UC Irvine, says that even low doses of outer space radiation result to damage to the human brain. With lethal cosmic rays bombarding the brain once outside of the protective layers of Earth, brain damage causing memory and cognitive impairments may manifest months after exposure.
“As NASA prepares for the first manned spaceflight to Mars, questions have surfaced concerning the potential for increased risks associated with exposure to the spectrum of highly energetic nuclei that comprise galactic cosmic rays,” Limoli states, “The exquisite susceptibility of neuronal architecture to the effects of charged particles reported here has important implications for human exploration into space and defines the need to further our understanding of radiation effects in the central nervous system as NASA prepares astronauts for one of the greatest adventures of humankind.”
To study the cosmic radiation’s adverse effect on the human brains, Limoli’s researcher team exposed lab mice to minute doses of particles encountered in space. They then explored 3 possible outcomes, brain structure, and neural and glial cell changes. The team seeks out to find answers to the “mind-numbing” effects of the cosmic particles and revealed that the damage cells spread significantly from its original site and the anatomy and cellular functional changes in the brain seems to be permanent.
The dendrites’ shape and functional changes within the brain, were related to loss of cognitive function and are similar to defects common in neurodegenerative ailments like dementia. Memory and short-term recollection cognition were also adversely affected in the performance tests.
Despite the fact of the astronauts short stint in outer space, either travel to the moon or orbit in the ICC, brain damage has not been witnessed so far. Limoli believes that may be due to Earth’s protective atmospheric layers, which may have extended a bit farther into space than originally thought, have saved our astronauts from the devastating effects to their brains.
“The International Space Station is protected by the Earth’s magnetosphere, which deflects anything that has a charge” Limoli says.