If a nuclear-powered spacecraft exploded in space, would it affect us on Earth?

We find out if we would be in danger from a spacecraft explosion in space

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NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft uses a reactor to propel itself through space. Image Credit: NASA

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft uses a reactor to propel itself through space. Image Credit: NASA

Asked by Keith Watts

Earth wouldn’t be affected at all if a spacecraft’s reactor managed to explode in space – especially if it’s a good distance from our planet.

An explosion like this is likely to cause a burst of X-rays and gamma rays. If these were to hit the Earth, they would be absorbed by our atmosphere, a protective barrier that also does a good job of absorbing harmful radiation from the Sun.

Of course, nuclear power can be extremely dangerous but is still a highly considered source to propel spacecraft through to the outer Solar System without the need for large solar panels, which would immediately become impractical the further the mission moved away from the Sun.

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