Space Weather and the Path to Mars

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More than an umbrella and a raincoat: making our red planet aspirations a reality.

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2021 Einstein Lecture

Activity on the Sun’s surface creates a type of climate called ‘space weather’. It takes the form of solar flares, coronal mass ejections and bursts of radiation that travel far and wide across the Solar System and beyond.

Space weather reaches Earth too – causing satellite disruption, electrical blackouts and the beautiful aurora – but thankfully our atmosphere and magnetic field protect us from the majority of negative effects. Astronauts however, when they venture beyond this veil, are subjected to extreme radiation. And this remains one of the major obstacles to manned missions to Mars.

Energetic, heavy and highly-charged particles, known as galactic cosmic rays, are extremely difficult to shield in space vehicles and could produce long-term radiation effects including cancer and damage to the nervous and cardiovascular systems. What’s more, unpredictable storms of solar energetic particles may expose astronauts to such high doses they might suffer acute radiation effects.

While the odds seem stacked against us, some of the brightest minds in the world are on the case. Discover more in our two-part lecture, where Sarah Brough, Iver Cairns, and Susanna Guatelli talk all things space weather, astronaut protection and whether we’ll ever make our Mars aspirations a reality.

This event is presented by the UNSW Centre for Ideas and the Australian Institute of Physics, and supported by Inspiring Australia as a part of National Science Week.


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This event will be available on the UNSW Centre for Ideas website, Facebook, and UNSW's YouTube channel .

A link to watch this event will be sent on the day of the event to registered attendees.



For event enquiries or to discuss your access requirements, please call the Centre for Ideas on 02 9065 0485 or email

The Centre for Ideas is happy to receive phone calls via the National Relay Service. TTY users, phone 133 677, then ask for 02 9065 0485. Speak and Listen users, phone 1300 555 727 then ask for 02 9065 0485. Internet relay users, visit, then ask for 02 9065 0485.



Iver Cains

Professor Iver Cairns received his PhD from the University of Sydney, then worked at the University of Iowa in the US before returning to the University of Sydney to take up a prestigious five-year Senior Research Fellowship. In 2004, he was awarded the competitive Australian Professorial Fellowship and, in 2009, was appointed Professor in Space Physics.

Susanna Guatelli

Associate Professor Susanna Guatelli is an international expert of Monte Carlo Radiation Transport Simulation Codes for radiation physics, including medical applications and radiation protection in Earth labs, aviation and space. After obtaining a Masters in Physics at the University of Genova in Italy, her PhD focused on radiation protection of astronauts in missions to Mars within the Aurora Project of the European Space Agency.

Sarah Brough (Chairperson)

Professor Sarah Brough is leading Australia into a new astronomical survey of the southern sky. She has been a key member of three major Australian-led surveys of galaxies and has published over 200 research papers examining how galaxies have changed with time. Professor Brough is particularly interested in the most massive galaxies in the Universe, which represent the most extreme result of galaxy formation.

Graeme Melville (Introduction)

Dr Graeme Melville is in the astrophysics division of the School of Physics at UNSW Sydney, where he is conducting research on the atmospheres of Exoplanets, polarisation of stars, and nuclear physics. He has been past Chairman of the Australian Institute of Physics in NSW and previously was part of a Cancer Research Group at St George Hospital.


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The UNSW Centre for Ideas presents a thought-provoking program of events and digital content from the globe's leading thinkers, authors and artists. An initiative of UNSW Sydney, the Centre is a new platform to champion the critical place of universities in leading open and informed debate.

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