Physics KS3 / GCSE: How Earth protects us from radiation

Dr Kevin Fong displays on screen an image from Tim Peake’s radiation detector.

With the help of astrophysicist Lucie Green, he interprets the image and explains that the Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field protect us from most of the ionising particles.

A device called a planeterella is used to show a simulation of the Northern Lights and then footage from the ISS is shown.

The view of the Northern Lights is even more impressive when viewed from above.

The upper atmosphere shields us from the most harmful radiation from the Sun and other celestial bodies.

During one of the Sun’s solar particle events (solar flares), astronauts are in danger of lethal irradiation and cannot leave the International Space Station.

Water could be a good shield to these high energy particles in future space missions.

This clip is from the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 2015.

Teacher Notes

Key Stage 3

This could be used to ask students to list the main ways in which we are protected on Earth from solar radiation and how astronauts are protected from solar radiation.

Key Stage 4

Students could research the Northern Lights and what causes them.

Curriculum Notes

This clip will be relevant for teaching Physics.

This topic appears at KS3 and in OCR, Edexcel, AQA, WJEC KS4/GCSE in England and Wales, CCEA GCSE in Northern Ireland and SQA National 4/5 in Scotland.

More from the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 2015

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How the vacuum of space effects the human body
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Orbital Rendezvous
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What does gas weigh?
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Why are bones weaker in orbit?
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How micro-gravity disorientates us
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The danger of orbital debris
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Why Earth rock is found on the Moon
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Demonstrating radiation detectors
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Why tardigrades can survive in orbit
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How to recycle urine in space
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