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As Voyager 1 continues its trek across interstellar space it has been reporting increased amounts of CME Plasma and Interstellar Plasma. When these two types of plasma interact a shock wave is generated with the last going on for more than a year. As these shock waves are expected to propagate far out into space, how does this affect future probes and astronauts?

Do spacecraft require additional shielding based on what we've learned so far?

Is the shock wave generated by the plasma's meeting each other dangerous to life or manned space craft?

Tsunami Waves

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    $\begingroup$ Space is a hostile place. Interstellar space is a very hostile place. I'm sure there are many things to worry about. $\endgroup$ – gerrit Aug 4 '15 at 10:44
  • $\begingroup$ From a colleague (an retired expert in the field): "Even with the significantly lower intensity of galactic cosmic rays at Earth's orbit, astronauts would exceed current lifetime limits for astronauts within about 6 months when outside of the Earth's atmosphere and magnetic field. At present, there is no practical method to shield them from the galactic cosmic rays. Of course, the situation would even be worse at [location of] the Voyagers." $\endgroup$ – jvriesem Aug 10 '15 at 15:50
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I asked a colleague (R. Jokipii, a retired expert in this field) about this, and here's my summary of what he told me.

Since the spacecraft separates the plasma outside from the people inside, any people inside would require no additional shielding from the plasma—it's only a significant threat through contact. He emphasized that plasma itself is so tenuous, even shocks would not present significant dangers to the spacecraft: there's simply not enough of it there to be a significant threat.

He added:

"Even with the significantly lower intensity of galactic cosmic rays at Earth's orbit, astronauts would exceed current lifetime limits for astronauts within about 6 months when outside of the Earth's atmosphere and magnetic field. At present, there is no practical method to shield them from the galactic cosmic rays. Of course, the situation would even be worse at [location of] the Voyagers."

So, it's the radiation that would be the danger for astronauts on manned probes—not the plasma.

He pointed me to a paper by Eugene Parker, an even more well-known plasma physicist who studied these interactions ("Shielding Space Travelers", Nature, 2006). The point of the paper is that cosmic rays pose the greatest threat to space travel, so shielding against these is critically important for any manned space exploration.

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    $\begingroup$ That paper by Parker is also available for free here: https://engineering.dartmouth.edu/~d76205x/research/Shielding/docs/Parker_06.pdf. (I did not post it, but I'm happy to point you to somebody who did.) $\endgroup$ – jvriesem Aug 14 '15 at 14:03
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    $\begingroup$ I would also add that even though the thin plasma does not pose a threat, it could still possibly interfere in small or large ways with certain kinds of instruments that future probes have (e.g. creating interference at certain frequencies). $\endgroup$ – jvriesem Aug 14 '15 at 14:05

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