“Basically, we’re finding that the Mars atmosphere is acting as a shield for the radiation on the surface and as the atmosphere gets thicker, that provides more of a shield and therefore we see a dip in our radiation dose,” Hassler said.
The findings mark the first time that cosmic rays have been measured on the surface of another planet, and come 100 years after Victor Hess discovered cosmic rays on Earth by using a hot-air balloon.
Following Curiosity‘s landing on Mars in August, the rover’s RAD device has measured radiation that is comparable to what astronauts experience aboard the International Space Station.
The robot explorer was also detecting radiation during its eight-month journey through space, and found levels were about double what they are on the planet.
Mars lacks a global magnetic field, and researchers believe this led to the loss of most of its atmosphere long ago under solar wind bombardment. RAD has found that as the remaining Martian atmosphere thickens and thins daily, radiation levels rise and fall by 3% to 5%.
Hassler added that the numbers he reported are preliminary and the data must still be calibrated. More precise information would help determine how much radiation astronauts would be exposed to during their journey to and from Mars as well as their stay.
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