The True Effects of Near-Light Speed on Astronauts

Illustration for article titled The True Effects of Near-Light Speed on Astronauts

What would exactly happen to the crew of a spacecraft traveling at 99.999998 per cent the speed of light? William Edelstein, at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, has the answer: It'd hurt. A lot.

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Illustration for article titled The True Effects of Near-Light Speed on Astronauts

Using Einstein's special theory of relativity, Edestein—an expert in radiology—concluded that astronauts will die instantly from radiation overload, thanks to the kinetic energy of the atoms surrounding the ship. The hydrogen atoms floating in the empty space would reach 7 teraelectron volts, which is the equivalent of staying at the center of the Large Hadron Collider set at maximum power. Even with a 10-centimeter-thick aluminum hull, 99 per cent of the energy will pass, destroying humans and circuitry inside.

His bottom line: "Hydrogen atoms are unavoidable space mines."

Thankfully, spacecrafts could be a lot more than gigantic engines and 10-centimeter hulls. Theoretical alternatives like the Alcubierre drive ship or Dr. Obousy's warp-drive spacecraft won't travel faster than the speed of light, but warp space around it. And who knows what else waits to be discovered in our quest to reach the stars. After all, humans are still trying to figure out most of the Universe around us. [New Scientist]

DISCUSSION

nutbastard-old
nutbastard

"Even with a 10-centimeter-thick aluminum hull, 99 per cent of the energy will pass"

which is why you wouldn't use such a low density material for the hull, and would have a specially designed 'plow' on the front for absorbing/deflecting the hydrogen atoms. lets be real here, if you've got the energy to accelerate a craft to any significant fraction of the speed of light, you've got enough energy to:

a) make the ship extra massive

b) power a ridiculous deflecting magnetic shield up front.

you could do a 5 foot thick hull of depleted uranium, problem solved.