I know that one current area of research is ways to protect astronauts from ionizing radiation when they venture out of the atmosphere of Earth, but would that same ionizing radiation be a cause of concern when performing chemical reactions in space or in the atmosphere of planets with little atmosphere?

I'm aware that radiation like ultraviolet, which is present in sunlight here on Earth, is used in organic chemistry for the homolytic fission of halides, but I'm not sure how much higher energy radiation might affect other reactions.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Nice question and there is also Microwave chemistry and if i am correct space has background microwave radiation $\endgroup$
    – Eka
    Commented May 3, 2015 at 16:15
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Isn't the clue in the name of the phenomenon, ionising radiation? The electromagnetic energy is strong enough to remove electrons. This would normally cause chemical changes to occur, much like in a mass spectrometer. If visible light can cleave bromine and UV can cause changes in vitamin D derivatives and stilbene to cyclise, I would anticipate ionising radiation to affect molecules much like it would chemicals in the cells in your body. $\endgroup$
    – Beerhunter
    Commented Aug 8, 2015 at 20:48

1 Answer 1


It depends....

First let's define the "problem space".

Chemical reactions are typically driven by a few eV (electron volts). "Ionizing radiation" can be keV or MeV which is vastly excessive. In fact that amount of energy is so massive that it would "rip up" the chemical bonding in any material. Only solid metals would be somewhat stable since the 3D lattice locks the atoms into place. $\ce{NaCl}$ for example could decompose to Na metal and $\ce{Cl_2}$ gas.

Any sort of chemical reaction in space has to have a container of some sort which would mitigate the penetration of the ionizing radiation somewhat. But it surely won't stop all of the ionizing radiation. There are nuclear experiments that are conducted a mile underground to try to remove cosmic particles.

The primary source of ionizing radiation in our solar system is the sun. So more distance from the sun is your friend.

"Performing chemical reactions in space" sort of implies that a human is doing the reactions. A biological entity is going to be more effected than any vat of chemicals. So in an environment which humans or plants could safely operate, then performing chemical reactions won't be a problem.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.