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Cosmic Radiation Speeds up Aging in Space? 218

SpaceAdmiral writes "The Theory of Relativity tells us that the faster a person travels the slower time passes for that person relative to someone left on Earth. This means that traveling at high velocities in a spacecraft should reduce one's aging. However, recent research suggests that cosmic radiation may counteract that anti-aging effect. Iron-nuclei radiation affects the aging of cells, which is possibly one of the reasons astronauts who have been to the Moon tend to get cataracts about 7 years earlier than other astronauts."
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Cosmic Radiation Speeds up Aging in Space?

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  • So... (Score:5, Funny)

    by op12 ( 830015 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @06:29PM (#14976181) Homepage
    ...time to put on my tinfoil suit!
  • by PIPBoy3000 ( 619296 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @06:29PM (#14976183)
    Going to the moon and back probably "slows down" time for an astronaut by a tiny fraction of a second.

    Getting hit by a lot of hard radiation causes all sorts of cellular problems, not just cataracts.

    How are the two connected again?
  • by shaitand ( 626655 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @06:30PM (#14976193) Journal
    All we have to do is bombard clones with the right kind of radiation and we can rapid grow them now.
    • ...In addition to giving them all sorts of cancers, DNA and RNA transcribing errors, mutated and mutilated protiens.

      If we assume that we can bombard them with x amount of quantity of y radiation to decrease maturation time by z, we must assume a disorder rate of (x*M)*z-21.

      This means that x amount time M, which is the average Mutation count per quantity of y radiation. Then the decreased in maturation time, z, minus 21 which is the legally "mature"(adult) age for total bombardment time multiplied by the
  • Bah! (Score:5, Funny)

    by GillBates0 ( 664202 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @06:30PM (#14976196) Homepage Journal
    Bah! You young 'uns and your fancy schmancy "cosmic radiation". In my day, we didn't have this uppity "Iron-nuclei radiation". We got by with regular sunshine in the day, moonlight during the night and we liked it.
  • Young.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by onion2k ( 203094 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @06:31PM (#14976201) Homepage
    One way or another, NASA plans to keep their astronauts feeling young.

    Miss Young was unavailable for comment.
  • by iced_773 ( 857608 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @06:31PM (#14976206)

    The aging does not "counteract" the relativity. For example, you may look like you aged 50 years, but only 20 will actually have passed for you. Meanwhile, 50 years may actually have passed on Earth.

    Cosmic radiation may age you, but it will not accelerate time.
    • Oh, come on. I said "counteract this anti-aging effect" not "counteract relativity and slow down time. " Only an idiot would require your clarification.
      • If I may:

        This means that traveling at high velocities in a spacecraft should reduce one's aging.

        No it won't. I will reduce the appearance of time's progression on a person, from everyone outside that persons sphere of perspective. They will still have lived the same amount of relative time as someone else would have.

        You weren't clear, and it sent shivers up a lot of people's backs.
        • That's a fair criticism, but I think in the context it's pretty clear. I mean, the previous sentence explicitly said it was a relative effect. I'm also assuming most /.ers have taken basic high school science. Having said that, the story isn't exactly as I wrote it (it was edited). So, um, I'll use that as my excuse for any further criticism that comes my way.
      • To be honest, I found the article summary to be a bit misleading, confusing, and aiming to be too "clever" for its own good. The topic is interesting, but you were trying too hard to be funny or something. To each his own, I guess; but don't be too surprised if the technically minded at /. didn't get the point or joke or whatever you were trying to accomplish.
    • hey, thanks for clearing that up!
  • by caluml ( 551744 ) <slashdot@spamgoeshere.calu m . o rg> on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @06:32PM (#14976208) Homepage
    Isn't this a given? Just as if you expose your skin to UV radiation on the beach all day, it'll age faster. Isn't aging (and cancer) just the decay of the DNA in your cells - aging just making them not grow back properly, and cancer making them grow wrongly?
  • Isn't Einstein still correct? You just need to travel faster, or get better shielding against space radiation and you'll still age slower.
    • by jfengel ( 409917 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @06:45PM (#14976330) Homepage Journal
      From the very tail end of the article: "This story should not be construed to mean that Einstein's theory of Special Relativity is wrong."

      Einstein was completely correct. What's wrong is the idea that you can use the time-dilation effect to get to another solar system safely if you can get close enough to light speed, since even short times in space cause health effects. Which has nothing to do with "aging" per se, and even less to do with relativity. And still less to do with NASA's immediate plans, since NASA only has solar-system travel in mind for the next few decades.

      So the final tally is:
      Space travel: still dangerous
      Einstein: correct
      Article author: dipstick
      • > What's wrong is the idea that you can use the time-dilation effect to get to another solar system safely if you can get close enough to light speed, since even short times in space cause health effects.

        What everyone's overlooking here is this:

        If you've got a power source capable of accelerating a spaceship to 0.99c for years at a time, you've got also a power source capable of deflecting the induced radiation from your travels, and you're probably not so worried about ship mass that you can't affo

        • you've also got a power source capable of deflecting the induced radiation from your travels

          No, active shielding doesn't help much against GCR [physicamedica.com].
          • > > you've also got a power source capable of deflecting the induced radiation from your travels
            >No, active shielding doesn't help much against GCR [physicamedica.com].

            The paper you quote appears to be discussing designs for interplanetary flights using technologies achievable today. (A reasonable approach - I'm mainly addressing the folks who are talking about time dilation effects as related to space travel :)

            2.1: Electrostatic requirements "exceed the state of the art by over an order of magnitude".


            • The paper was written in 2000. 2000's state of the art is better than that of the 60s and 70s.

              In terms of achievable electrostatic potentials? Hardly. There haven't been any significant innovations in charge buildup since the 60s that I can think of. You're talking about launching a half kilometer long Van de Graaf generator and accelerating it to relativistic speeds. Not going to happen.

              The radiation induced by flying headlong into whatever ionized crap happens to be in interstellar space (however thin
      • Minutes before I caught this story, I read my email... and in there was the NASA Science News mailing for today. It is entitled: "Was Einstein Wrong About Space Travel?" While the article body wasn't quite as sensationalist, the title makes me wonder just who's penning articles for PR.


  • Considering the practical difficulties of accelerating to a high percentage of the speed of light, what's a little extra radiation exposure? A few extra meters of shielding ought to reduce that problem, though all that mass will take some extra energy to get up to speed.

    How much would it cost to Lorentz contract my time so I can stop in the year 3006? A couple of gazillion? Would I even want to see how much more screwed up the world will be in another thousand years?

    Maybe that radiation wouldn't be such
  • by cowboy76Spain ( 815442 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @06:34PM (#14976241)
    Travelling to great speed does not have an anti aging effect... It changes the "duration" of time, but the effects on the body related to the time spend does not vary. The classical effect of the astronauts who returns to earth 70 years before having aged only 7 years is due to the fact that the astronaut has spend only 7 years in the space (from his point of view).
  • by netsavior ( 627338 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @06:40PM (#14976279)
    which is possibly one of the reasons astronauts who have been to the Moon tend to get cataracts about 7 years earlier than other astronauts So basically this proves what my mom said Lying makes you go blind. It also proves that the moon missions were fake.
  • Are you really aging slowly? All the reactions in your body are happening at the same rates, including aging. The difference is that the rates are happening at a different speed of time. So the same rates but different times means that you aren't aging slower, your creating a time illusion of sorts. You have not aged any more than you know you should in the time that you have, but other people see that you have aged less than they know you should in the time that you(they) have. Since you are both right, I
  • In some instances it speeds up aging but in other cases it turns you into a superhero(tm). I'll take my chances!
  • Space radiation helped my joints get more flexible, and all the wrinkles on my wife's face disappeared. If that wasn't enough, my brother-in-law can arrive to his job in practically no time, and my friend Ben got much stronger.

    Reed Richards.
  • by nizo ( 81281 ) * on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @06:51PM (#14976388) Homepage Journal
    When you travel near the speed of light just think of how many more cosmic rays you collide with since you are going so fast.
    • When you travel near the speed of light just think of how many more cosmic rays you collide with since you are going so fast.

      The speed at which electromagnetic radiation propagates is constant, regardless of your velocity. If you are 'standing still' relative to the universe, light travels at 300,000 km/sec. If you accelerate at 1 km/sec for 300,000 seconds and measure the speed of light, it will be traveling at 300,000 km/sec (and just to be clear, you will not be traveling at 300,000 km/sec at that poi
      • I don't think this is right. First of all, cosmic rays are particles, not radiation (as I think you are implying). But to the point, you would expect to collide with more cosmic rays since you are sweeping out a greater volume due to your velocity. Given some cosmic ray density in space (number of particles per m^3), the greater the volume swept out, the more encounters there will be. Each encounter would still feature relative velocities less than c.
        • Ok, lets think about it like this: You are traversing (for example) say twice the volume of radiation filled space in a givin time, therefore you are being exposed to radiation in any selected area for half the duration. Simple.
          • But we're not talking about a duration of radiation in a certain area, but integrating the total number of encounters. If you hang your head outside of a car and open your mouth, you'll swallow twice as many gnats going at 60 mph than you would at 30 mph (if the gnat density is constant in space).
  • ... ever.

    I mean who writes these things? Can you talk about the aging effect of space rediation without going off on a tangent about relativity. The two are completely unrelated you know.

    Also as others have said relativistic speeds do not really extend your life. From the point of view of the person travelling at a high speed his/her life will not feel any longer.
  • Cataracts? (Score:3, Funny)

    by nightsweat ( 604367 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @06:56PM (#14976436)
    I had heard the astronauts get Cadillacs earlier which, ironically, is also a sign of premature aging.
  • I was wondering if the 25 or so astronauts who went to the Moon, including both lunar orbit and surface landings, was a large enough group to draw these statistical conclusions from.
  • Using an astronaught is not a large sample and would make a highly speculative study.

    Secondly, at the speed of light the aging process does not slow down. The rate at which I age is constant but you may view me as not having aged.

    Lastly, would cosmic rays have a greater or lesser impact on your relative aging? If travelling at 90% instead of 50% of the speed of light increase my chances of being viewed as aging faster?

    Maybe my questions are answered in the article but I tried to read it and my head
  • by sk1tch ( 152715 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @07:01PM (#14976484) Homepage
    What's with the latest string of intensely stupid articles on slashdot? First XBox downloads of apples outpaces iTunes downloads of oranges, and now a random fact of biology overrules an accepted theory of physics? Why do people write such retarded titles and how do they get posted?
  • "The Theory of Relativity tells us that the faster a person travels the slower time passes for that person relative to someone left on Earth. This means that traveling at high velocities in a spacecraft should reduce one's aging."

    For a limited time, we will offer you the ultimate in longevity treatments. You'll fly off at ultra high velocities in one of our specially-designed rocket ships, which use certified Space Technology®. You'll be the envy of your friends, as they watch you age 50 or 100 time
  • by Quirk ( 36086 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @07:08PM (#14976528) Homepage Journal
    Others have commented on the nonsense of the story as posted but there is another angle. Much progress in biology and more especially in medicine has come from the study of pathologies. We assume a healthy organism then study a pathology to gain some insight into the changes the pathology has wrought. Further we reason from the state of the pathology to better improve our model of a healthy organism.

    The classic example in neuroscience is the case history of Phineas P. Gage [wikipedia.org].

    Space travel and Space Stations have provided us with a burgeoning catalogue of studies on the impact of extended stays in space on our and other metabolisms. The Biomedical Results From Skylab [nasa.gov] are an example of earlier studies. Space promises unique biological insights.

  • Send in the Robots (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DumbSwede ( 521261 ) <slashdotbin@hotmail.com> on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @07:18PM (#14976587) Homepage Journal
    What a circuitous way to say that the Cosmic Ray and Solar Activity exposure of Space is bad for you. Scientific American had an in depth article on this just a month or two ago. As it turns out we have no really good ideas about how to adequately shield the human body from radiation in space and the problem only gets worse once you leave what little protection the Earth's magnetic shield provides. And before you suggest Magnetic Shielding or Material Shielding or Electrostatic Shielding, they crunched the numbers on all these things and the results were depressing. You can shield with a high enough Magnetic Field, but the Teslas involved are so high as to be worse that the radiation your trying to shield from (Earth's shield is effective because of size). Physical shielding requires a Meter or more of water all around (impractical because of weight). Etc., ect... We've made NO progress on really effective anti radiation measures in space. There are only coping strategies, so if you want to go to Mars just be prepared to give up 10-15 years off your expected life time on average or at best an early onset of senile dementia because you WILL loose quite a few neurons to radiation to realize your dreams of bounding around on Mars.

    As a child I had been wildly enthusiastic about manned space flight or even becoming an astronaut myself some day. The fact that my 11th birthday coincided with the Apollo 11 Moon landing probably has something to do with this (I'll let you do the math to figure out my age). Anyway we've spent over 3 decades going basically nowhere and as it turns out space is a really hazardous place to stay for long periods of time. So while I'm still very much pro space exploration it is time to hand the baton to robots. Insisting that Man can do some things better is probably only true for the short term anyway. Better to embrace our robotic assisted lives by using the space program as a driving program to accelerate robotics instead of as a meat grinder for human flesh.

    What NASA should REALLY focus on are sample return missions. That is where the real big bang for scientific buck will come.
  • The Fantastic Four must be pretty old at this rate!
  • by Andy Gardner ( 850877 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @07:28PM (#14976693)
    Correct me if I'm wrong (and I know you will, this being slashdot :P) but a body travelling at relatavistic speeds would not experience a slower passage of time, a second would still be a second?

    As far as I'm aware if your were 20 and traveled at reletavistic speeds for 10 years you would be 30 at the end of your journey. However many more years may have passed at some arbitrary fixed point (relatively).

    So this article is basically saying radiation reduces lifespan?

    • The article is really only about the pervasive threat of radiation that humans face if they leave the Earth and its protections behind. They genuflect about time dilation which is a consequence of relativistic physics but don't even try to explain. What we have known theoretically and have verified experimentally for about a century is that space and time are mixed together in a very algebraically specific way when viewed by different observers who are in relative motion. One consequence of this theory is c
  • ROTFLMAO (Score:4, Informative)

    by PortHaven ( 242123 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @08:00PM (#14976961) Homepage
    Hey Slashdot,

    "How LOWWWWWW can we go?"

    This is "recent" research. Sheesh. I remember hearing about cosmic radiation's effect of aging when I was like 4 yrs old. (I just turned 30.)

    Anyways, can someone please review the articles for some relanvancy to life. I mean, sheesh, this is a known issue. It's why one of the discussions regarding all deep space missions revolves around how best to shield the crew from cosmic radiation.


    Oh yes, btw,...let me show you this great new revolutionary idea I've come up with.... I call it the "Space Shuttle"
    • > Sheesh. I remember hearing about cosmic radiation's effect of aging when I was like 4 yrs old. (I just turned 30.)

      Man, you must have absorbed quite a dose to age 26 years between reading the article and posting a comment.
  • by posterlogo ( 943853 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @08:07PM (#14977007)
    "The Theory of Relativity tells us that the faster a person travels the slower time passes for that person relative to someone left on Earth. This means that traveling at high velocities in a spacecraft should reduce one's aging."

    Then the article goes on to talk about cosmic radiation causing premature age-jaculation. Talk about apples and oranges... First of all, the obvious... sub-light speed travel does not reduce one's aging -- it would just appear that way (in theory) to a "stationairy" observer (as if there were such a thing). Second, actually using sub-light travel to let the world around you go by faster isn't really plausable, now, is it? Ok, those are the obvious ones. Something actually interesting (because it's real and verifiable) is that radiation does indeed cause telomere shortening. There is a correlation with increased age and shortened telomeres. The experiment should be relatively straightforward with model organisms sent to space, even in earth orbit, but one would have a difficult time proving causality: cosmic rays -> shortened telomeres -> premature aging.

    What the article does not tell you, is that the amount of radiation that caused the telomere damage would necessarily also cause other DNA damage. In other words, the premature aging might be the last of your worries if you were actually exposed to cosmic radiation. One would probably die of cancer or radiation poisoning first.

    • If you make two identical clock, and put one in a satallit, it's clock would appear slow compared the the clock left on earth. Hence not aging as much as if it had been on earth.

      Point in fact, a clock on the top of mt. Everest would tick slower then one at sea level. Same thing if you had a clock on a pole, and one on the equator.

      There are two factors, speed an gravity.

      • That's nice, you're talking about special relativity and general relativity. The point is that all inertial reference frames are equivalent. To step back from the gibberish for a second, that implies that all points of view are equally valid. I really hope we're disagreeing purely on semantics, because otherwise, you really think there is such a thing as slowed aging, and that would be sad. The clock on top of Mt. Everest would only appear faster than the one at sea level. Similarly, the one at the bot
  • The whole point of relativity is that time is "relative". If I am travelling at 0.8c then I still age at exactly the same rate as I would on earth. Its just that 50 years to me might be 150 years to everybody back on Earth. We all still age exactly the same way in our own frame of reference. Its only when someone looks at me through a telescope that they realise I still look young whilst they have aged.
  • Confused? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Geoff St. Germaine ( 819751 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @10:28PM (#14977882)
    This is possibly the most confused article I've ever seen here. Somebody doesn't understand relativity, but decided to include implications of it in an article about the cellular effects of radiation.
  • Radiation in space essentially makes manned space travel beyond the moon impossible right now. Furthermore, there aren't even any good proposals for how to create viable shields.
  • Some questions:

    Just what is iron-nuclei radiation, and how is it different from, say, tin-nuclei radiation? It's the term 'radiation' that's throwing me here. Is this like Alpha radiation' which are helium-nuclei? And if it's iron, why not stop it with a magnetic field?

    Also, is there an 'At-Rest' speed in the universe where everything else is traveling faster than you against whatever reference the universe uses to measure speed, and hence time at this relative speed passes faster than at any other s

    • Re:Some Questions (Score:3, Informative)

      by Detritus ( 11846 )
      It's a bigger rock (13x larger than helium), and it causes more extensive damage in the cell when compared to helium nuclei. I don't think the exact element is too important. The damage is related to mass and kinetic energy. Iron is just a relatively common element, being the waste product of large stars.
  • It is called "Earth". It travels for millions of centuries in space, and people on it do not suffer radiation poisoning, even though they have no concrete shielding from it...
  • The time dialation effect is apparent only to observers left behind on earth. To the astronaut, the clock ticks as fast as always and they live their three score and ten like anybody else. They return from their trip and find WE have aged faster. The radiation thing is certainly real and certainly unrelated to relativity. When you build your almost-lightspeed ship, be sure to lay on plenty of sheilding.

All Finagle Laws may be bypassed by learning the simple art of doing without thinking.