NASA announces new mission to study solar particle storms, with six small satellites the size of toaster ovens that will orbit Earth and measure radiation from the sun
- NASA has announced a new project to study dangerous solar particle storms
- The project will launch no earlier than July 1, 2023 at a cost of $62.6 million
- It will use satellites in orbit around the Earth to measure solar radiation and model when and where dangerous eruptions are likely to take place on the sun
NASA has announced a new research mission that will send a group of small satellites into orbit to study the mysterious phenomenon of solar particle storms.
Called Sun Radio Interferometer Space Experiment (SunRISE), the mission will cost $62.6million and is scheduled to launch no earlier than July 1, 2023.
The mission will be organized by Justin Kasper from the University of Michigan and overseen by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
NASA has announced a new research mission to study solar particle storms caused by large eruptions on the surface of the sun that send streams of protons into space
‘The more we know about how the Sun erupts with space weather events, the more we can mitigate their effects on spacecraft and astronauts,’ NASA’s Nicky Fox said in a prepared statement.
The mission will use a constellation of six solar powered satellites the size of toaster ovens, called CubeSats, to collect data on low-frequency emissions from the sun.
The six satellites will fly in a set formation, each six miles apart from the next, while orbiting the Earth.
They’ll measure radiation particles from the sun that would otherwise be filtered out by the Earth’s atmosphere.
Researchers will use differences in the flow of those radiation particles to create 3D models of the bursts on the surface of the sun that produce them.
The models will be used to try and create better predictions for when solar particle storms might form.
Solar particle storms occur when large streams of protons are ejected from the surface of the sun, which have enough energy to penetrate the Earth’s magnetosphere.
The project will use six toaster-sized satellites called CubeSats to orbit the Earth and measure solar radiation that would otherwise be filtered out by the atmosphere. The team will use that radiation data to model how and when large eruptions that cause storms occur
In severe cases, these solar particle storms can cause geomagnetic storms on Earth and cause electrical grids to malfunction as well as disrupt some electronic devices.
And they’re not just hazards on Earth. Solar radiation storms can also disrupt space stations and spacecraft.
They can also have a range of harmful effects on astronauts who aren’t properly shielded during them, including nausea, vomiting, and dangerous changes in blood chemistry.
The SunRISE project is part of NASA’s Missions of Opportunity program, which reviews pitches from researchers requesting space on upcoming rocket launches.
WHAT ARE SOLAR STORMS AND ARE THEY DANGEROUS?
Solar storms, or solar activity, can be divided into four main components that can have impacts on Earth:
- Solar flares: A large explosion in the sun’s atmosphere. These flares are made of photons that travel out directly from the flare site. Solar flares impact Earth only when they occur on the side of the sun facing Earth.
- Coronal Mass Ejections (CME’s): Large clouds of plasma and magnetic field that erupt from the sun. These clouds can erupt in any direction, and then continue on in that direction, plowing through solar wind. These clouds only cause impacts to Earth when they’re aimed at Earth.
- High-speed solar wind streams: These come from coronal holes on the sun, which form anywhere on the sun and usually only when they are closer to the solar equator do the winds impact Earth.
- Solar energetic particles: High-energy charged particles thought to be released primarily by shocks formed at the front of coronal mass ejections and solar flares. When a CME cloud plows through solar wind, solar energetic particles can be produced and because they are charged, they follow the magnetic field lines between the Sun and Earth. Only charged particles that follow magnetic field lines that intersect Earth will have an impact.
While these may seem dangerous, astronauts are not in immediate danger of these phenomena because of the relatively low orbit of manned missions.
However, they do have to be concerned about cumulative exposure during space walks.
This photo shows the sun’s coronal holes in an x-ray image. The outer solar atmosphere, the corona, is structured by strong magnetic fields, which when closed can cause the atmosphere to suddenly and violently release bubbles or tongues of gas and magnetic fields called coronal mass ejections
The damage caused by solar storms
Solar flares can damage satellites and have an enormous financial cost.
The charged particles can also threaten airlines by disturbing Earth’s magnetic field.
Very large flares can even create currents within electricity grids and knock out energy supplies.
When Coronal Mass Ejections strike Earth they cause geomagnetic storms and enhanced aurora.
They can disrupt radio waves, GPS coordinates and overload electrical systems.
A large influx of energy could flow into high voltage power grids and permanently damage transformers.
This could shut off businesses and homes around the world.
Source: NASA – Solar Storm and Space Weather