Space and Plastic Essay

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Research has shown that molecules that are made of hydrogen and carbon atoms (hydrocarbons) are very effective in absorbing high energy Cosmic Radiation. Polyethylene has been shown to be one of the most effective molecules in radiation absorption. Polyethylene, with the chemical formula (C2H4)nH2, is the most common form of plastic found on earth today. We come across polyethylene on a daily basis. It is used to make milk jugs, grocery bags, and almost any kind of packaging you can think of. It is even used in hip and knee replacements. In fact, 80 million metric tons of polyethylene is produced annually. There are different types and densities of polyethylene that are used commercially. Polyethylene plastic has been shown to be a much better protector against radiation than metals. Part of this is due to the reason that Polyethylene molecules are composed of lighter atoms than metals and metal alloys. When a Cosmic Radiation particle like a proton strikes an atom, it produces what is called "Secondary Radiation." What that means is the proton smashes into the atom and breaks it apart into smaller particles, which become the secondary radiation as they shoot out from the original atom. (nasa.gov) If you have a heavier metal atom with many protons, neutrons and electrons, the incoming proton smashes that atom, you get many secondary radiation particles, and some energy released like gamma rays. (nasa.gov) (The concept is the same in nuclear power.) If you have lighter, less atomically massive atoms like carbon and hydrogen, you do not get anywhere near the amount of secondary particles shooting out from the original atom. (nasa.gov) Plastic can be melted down from soft drink bottles and then casting them as plastic chairs and tables. Plastics are also recycled/reprocessed during the manufacturing process of plastic goods such as film and bags. A percentage of the

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