Stray Hydrogen Atoms Become Deadly for Starships Traveling at Light Speed

Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - 11:35 in Physics & Chemistry

You guys put up shields, right? Science fiction writers may have to rethink how their starship crews survive travel near or beyond the speed of light. Even the occasional hydrogen atom floating in the interstellar void would become a lethal radiation beam that would kill human crews in mere seconds and destroy a spacecraft's electronics, New Scientist reports. Just a few stray wisps of hydrogen gas -- fewer than two hydrogen atoms per cubic centimeter on average -- would translate into 7 teraelectron volts for a starship crew traveling at 99.999998 percent of the speed of light. That's as much fun for humans as standing in front of the proton beam created by the Large Hadron Collider, according to William Edelstein, a physicist at Johns Hopkins University. Edelstein added that the radiation dose would reach 10,000 sieverts within a second; the fatal radiation dose for humans is just 6 sieverts. He predicted that...

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