It seems like scientists from the UK may have made a major contribution to space travel, with their work to design a magnetic shield capable of protecting against solar radiation and cosmic rays.
Conducting experiments in the Lab the scientists (from om the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL), the Universities of York and Strathclyde, and IST Lisbon) are firing streams of charged particles and deflecting them using simple magnets. It was previously assumed that planetary sized magnets were necessary, but they have shown that is it possible to create a shielded area on a smaller scale.
Such devices may be necessary for us to travel through the Van Allen Radiation belt, as well as protecting delicate humans another obvious application is the protection of electronic devices in space and further miniaturization of satellites. Such devices can also be damaged by the solar radiation, and usually electronics have to be specially hardened against radiation damage.
The Rutherford Laboratory have a page about their work here: http://www.minimagnetosphere.rl.ac.uk/.
You can find a paper here: The interaction of a flowing plasma with a dipole magnetic field: measurements and modelling of a diamagnetic cavity relevant to spacecraft protection. R Bamford et al 2008 Plasma Phys. Control. Fusion 50 124025 (11pp) doi: 10.1088/0741-3335/50/12/124025.
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