Chernobyl is the greatest nuclear disaster that humanity has managed to do to itself, and it is still a hot zone several decades after the original melt down. Now it looks like ruining this planet may be just what we need to make living on the next one possible.
A new study is showing promise that the black mold found around Chernobyl could be the perfect radiation shield for space ships and possibly even for a settlement Mars.
While earth is protected by the magnetosphere, Mars doesn’t have anything to guard humans against the the cosmic radiation that constantly bombards the planet. However, this black mold, or radiotrophic fungi feeds on the radiation and converts it into the energy it needs to grow. How does it do this? With melanin, the same chemical that gives human skin color and protects us from radiation.
According to the study, a 21 cm thick layer of the mold could absorb enough cosmic radiation to keep us from dying or turning into super heroes. As an added bonus, a colony as small as 21 grams is all you need to support an unending supply of the stuff. And, if it gets burnt up by a solar flare, it will heal and regrow in a matter of a few days.
We don’t know if this means they’ll find a use for the mold on space ships, but it sounds like it could be the perfect covering for buildings on planets like Mars where radiation exposure is one of the major risks that people have to contend with.
It looks like the validity of the prior study is being tested as we speak. A team of researchers from Johns Hopkins university has recently sent a sample of the fungust to the ISS to see how it holds up.