Chernobyl fungus could block cosmic radiation in Martian colonies

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Uh-huh. So would a 21-centimeter layer of Pop-Tarts. Or poop.

Ionizing radiation couldn’t give a fig if the stuff it’s smacking into is alive or not. Put enough of the right kinds of nuclei in a place, and radiation passing through it will be attenuated. You do have to tune the nuclei to the flavor of radiation–hard gamma needs big nuclei like lead, neutrons need little ones like hydrogen but enough carbon can be useful–but beyond that, it doesn’t matter.

That some kinds of living fungus can eventually make use of some of the energy that sprays around when an energetic subatomic particle smacks into another one does not itself make the fungus any more useful, gram for gram, than dead fungus.


Can 9" of fungus grow faster than 5 astronauts making a 9" poop shield?

Would 9" of pop tarts block or absorb that radiation and pass it to humans? Would the poop absorb radiation?

Too lazy to Google, thanks!

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I am a regular watcher of Anton Petrov’s videos. He does a great job of explaining and always has interesting topics.

Works great till the fungus mutates.

You still need to give fungus some organic material for it to gain mass. Tossing it on some martian rocks doesn’t really save you much in payload if you have to bring a cubic meter of wood chips too.

It thrives in the Chernobyl reactor, I don’t think a bit of solar radiation is going to have much of an impact.

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The great early scifi writer Cordwainer Smith (who wrote mostly in the 1930s-50s) conceived space travel as being prohibitively painful until a layer of living oysters were added to the hull so that the pain [waves?] were blocked. And here we are with barrier fungus; (save the oysters for lunch)

‘Scanners Live in Vain’:

And the Beasts came back unhurt. They came back because the walls of the ships were filled with life. I tried many kinds, and finally found a sort of life which lives in the waters. Oysters. Oysterbeds. The outermost oysters died in the great pain. The inner ones lived. The passengers were unhurt.”


Can we try using it to shield all the nuclear waste we are producing on this planet before we get into dreams of how to survive on another one? Or is it only good for cosmic radiation?

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Isn’t there a lot of pretty high intensity radiation in space? High frequency, high intensity.

Turns out that if you start with 21 centimeters of Pop-Tarts, astronauts can convert that to 21 centimeters of poop. If you want, you can then seed in some fungus, and get 21 centimeters of fungus. But for a given mass of atoms, they’re going to block or fail to block ionizing radiation exactly the same whether they’re arranged into Pop-Tarts, poop, live fungus, or dead fungus.

A Pop-Tarts to poop strategy can be useful for the TRIP to Mars. The vehicle will need radiation shielding, including light-nucleus stuff; food converted to poop en route will serve as shielding in either form. (No form of shielding blocks 100% of anything, so it’s never a simple binary works-or-it-doesn’t. You have to balance how much mass you can afford to carry against how much radiation risk the occupants will have to incur.)

For an actual Martian colony, it’s far, far more sensible to just use 21 centimeters of rocks. Or, if that doesn’t attenuate what you’re worried about enough, use 23, 49, or 210 centimeters of rocks. There’s nary a Pop-Tart, poop, or fungus on Mars, but there are rocks as far as the eye can see.


Do you want The Last of Us: Red Planet? Because this is how you get The Last of Us: Red Planet.

And deserve it.

You want The Blob?
This is how you get The Blob.

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I guess if the fungus thrives, it’s something that pretends to enjoy the cosmic rays and products made in it from cosmic rays, as opposed to making carbon monoxide and other radicals and things that plasticize lungs in bad ways. Then you just need something to thrive and make light scents off the beta radiation, and you can be said to be nearly set for tea while the oxygen holds out!


Somewhere out of that idea and the current state of the world is the potential for some really nasty dystopian fiction.

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Is it safe to eat? This might be a renewable food source for space travel.

Not that there are a lot of songs about fungi, but I guess this is my favourite.