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更新时间:2018-2-21 10:43:19 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

What it's like in the Bermuda Triangle of space

“Before I became an astronaut, I had seen stories of astronauts who had seen white flashes from radiation while they flew in space,” says Terry Virts, a former Nasa astronaut. On the fifth night of his first flight – a 2010 mission with the Space Shuttle Endeavour – he had just got into bed. “I… closed my eyes and boom! This gigantic white, blinding flash happened in my eyes – and I didn’t hear anything.”

"在我成为宇航员之前,我曾听到过这样的故事:有宇航员在飞越太空时从辐射中看到了白色的闪光," 前NASA(美国国家航空航天局)宇航员特里·维尔特斯(Terry Virts)说。在他首次太空飞行的第五个晚上——即2010年执行"奋进"号(Endeavour)航天飞机的一次任务中——他刚刚睡下。"我……闭上眼睛,倏然间,一道巨大耀眼的白色闪光映入我的眼帘——但我却没有听到任何声响。"

As more entrepreneurs dabble in space flight – like SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who just launched his new Heavy rocket in Florida – they’ll find they have to contend with these kinds of bizarre phenomena.

随着越来越多的企业家涉足太空飞行——就像刚刚在佛罗里达州发射新型重型火箭的SpaceX首席执行官伊隆·马斯克(Elon Musk)一样——他们会发现他们不得不面对这些奇异的现象。

One of the oddest of all is the one witnessed by Virts. This is the South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA), which combines a massive flash of light without any sound. But the SAA isn’t just a strange sight. It wreaks havoc on computers in the vicinity and exposes nearby humans to higher radiation levels – something that has earned it its nickname ‘the Bermuda Triangle of space’.

其中最离奇的现象当属维尔特斯目击到的那次。当时他处在南大西洋异常区(South Atlantic Anomaly-SAA),同时出现了巨大的闪光,但却没有任何声响。但SAA不只是一个奇怪的景象。它还对邻近的计算机造成严重破坏,并将附近的人类暴露在更高的辐射水平。正因如此,SAA获得了"百慕大三角空间"(Bermuda Triangle)这一绰号。

As manned space flights become more common and astronauts become more reliant on computers, the challenges SAA poses could become only more acute.


To understand the SAA, you must first understand the Van Allen radiation belts. These are two doughnut-shaped areas of charged particles that surround the Earth and are held in place by its magnetic field. “The Sun puts out a huge amount of radiation,” says Virts, “and a lot of it is particles like electrons shot off the Sun’s surface… All of this material gets shot out in space and the Sun’s magnetic field can bend it. When it gets to Earth, it gets trapped in our magnetic field and forms these radiation belts out in space.”

要了解SAA,就必须先了解范艾伦(Van Allen)辐射带。这是由两个形如甜甜圈的区域构成的辐射带,其中含有环绕地球的带电粒子,通过其磁场保持其位置。"太阳释放出大量的辐射,"维尔特斯说,"其中很多都是粒子形式,比如从太阳表面射出的电子……所有这些物质都会在太空中被击落,而太阳的磁场可能会令其扭曲。当它们到达地球时,会被围困在地球的磁场中,并在太空中形成辐射带。"

The good news is that the Van Allen belts protect the Earth from these highly charged electronic particles thrown from the Sun. The bad news is that there’s a catch.


The Earth is not completely round; it bulges slightly in the middle. The Earth’s magnetic poles also aren’t completely in line with its geographical poles, and so it is tilted, resulting in the Van Allen belts also being tilted. The SAA is where the inner Van Allen radiation belt is at its lowest altitude and so at its closest point to the Earth. Due to the tilt, the magnetic field is strongest in the North, leaving an area above the South Atlantic and Brazil right in the path of the Van Allen belt.


It’s not dangerous to the Earth. But it causes havoc to any satellites and other spacecraft such the International Space Station (ISS) that pass through the area, as well as to the people on board – something Virts knows all too well from both his 2010 flight and his time aboard the ISS in 2014.


As well as the white flashes that astronauts report seeing, their computers get affected. “We have an acronym for everything at Nasa,” says Virts. “And these are SEU’s – single event upsets. It just means your computer hiccups and it happens fairly often.

根据宇航员的报告,他们看到了白色闪光,他们的电脑也受到了影响。"在NASA,我们对任何现象都有一个缩写,"维尔特斯说。 "而这些都属于SEU——单一混乱事件。这意味着你的电脑会暂停工作,而且会经常发生。

“This is a well-known area where all different types of satellites – not just a space station with people, but normal communication satellites and others – have problems,” he adds. “You want to kind of get through there as fast as you can on the way to the Moon, or wherever you’re going.”


At the moment, the Hubble Space Telescope, for example, cannot take astronomical observations while flying through the region.

比如哈勃太空望远镜(Hubble Space Telescope)在穿越该区域时就无法进行天文观测。

So how do spacecraft and their passengers protect themselves from this pummelling of radiation? Water is the best shield, says Virts. On the ISS, the astronauts use a “water wall”. “It’s just a bunch of these big 50lb [23kg] water bags,” he says – though they aren’t wrapped around the astronauts’ sleeping quarters.


The radiation is closely monitored for the duration of space missions. “There are several electronic radiation detectors that just count radiation hits and send the data back to Earth,” says Virts. “We each carry a radiation monitor with us the entire time we’re in space… I kept that in my pocket for my entire mission, on both of my missions. Even when I went outside on my space walks, I brought it with me in my space suit.”


This fight between the Earth’s magnetic field and the solar wind also has another surprising effect: the Aurora, or the Northern and Southern Lights. This is caused when the highly charged particles from the sun hit the Earth’s atmosphere, causing a glowing green light display.


On Earth, people travel thousands of miles to see the Aurora. But while on the ISS, Virts had the best view of all. “From space the Northern lights look very different to the Southern lights,” he explains. “The Northern Lights from the Space Station’s point of view were always this thin band off in the distance and the Southern Lights were always this much bigger cloud, much closer to the space station.”

在地球上,人们旅行数千英里去一睹极光的风采。但是,在国际空间站上,维尔特斯拥有最好的视野。"从太空中观测,北极光与南极光看起来完全不同,"他解释说。 "从太空站的角度来看,北极光始终是远处的这样一个薄带,而南极光始终是这个更硕大的云团,更接近太空站。"

Of his 215 days in space, this sight has stayed with him. “You’re floating and you’re flying through this gigantic green and red dancing cloud,” he says. “There’s nothing like it on Earth.”


No matter how beautiful the view, as spaceflight becomes more common and missions more distant, spacecraft need to improve their resilience to SAA and its radiation exposure.


“As we go deeper into the Solar System and further away from Earth, we won’t have mission control to help us instantly,” Virts says. “We might have to wait a few minutes because of the speed of light to get a reply. So computers need to be better with artificial intelligence, and so on.


“And the more powerful computer you get, the more susceptible it is to radiation problems.


“That’ll be a really important thing for future space exploration.”