Space

NASA forecasts fair weather for astronauts over the next decade

NASA forecasts fair weather fo...
The ability to forecast solar flares is increasingly important as NASA prepares to send humans to the Moon under the Artemis program
The ability to forecast solar flares is increasingly important as NASA prepares to send humans to the Moon under the Artemis program
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The ability to forecast solar flares is increasingly important as NASA prepares to send humans to the Moon under the Artemis program
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The ability to forecast solar flares is increasingly important as NASA prepares to send humans to the Moon under the Artemis program

NASA says that the weather forecast for the next decade is favorable – space weather, that is. Based on a new study, the space agency has announced that the Sun is moving into an 11-year period of minimal sunspot activity, which means that the chances of massive solar flares spewing out radiation that could be a deadly hazard to astronauts and spacecraft are much lower.

One of the greatest dangers to space travel is radiation and one of the biggest sources of radiation is the Sun. Though it may seem like the most constant thing in our daily lives, the Sun is actually a variable star run by a very complex mechanism that scientists still don't fully understand.

What is known is that the Sun goes through 11-year cycles during which solar activity rises and falls. This is marked by increases and decreases in the number of sunspots on the surface, which are areas of intense magnetic storms that are thousands of times more powerful than the Earth's magnetic field.

If there are a large number of spots at a time when the Sun is at its most active, then massive solar flares can happen, such as the one that occurred in August 1972 in between the Apollo 16 and 17 missions. They can pose a real hazard to space travelers or probes operating outside the Earth's atmosphere and protective magnetic field.

However, if the number of spots is small at the maximum point in the cycle, then the Sun remains quiet and solar flares are at a minimum. According to NASA, the next cycle that begins in 2020 will reach its maximum in 2025, but the number of spots may be 30 to 50 percent lower than the previous cycle. That would make it the weakest recorded in the last two centuries.

This means that planners have much more leeway when it comes to scheduling mission like NASA's Artemis, which will see American astronauts returning to the Moon

The new forecast is the work of a team led by Irina Kitiashvili of the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California. Using data collected since 1976 from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory and the Solar Dynamics Observatory space missions, the researchers were able to come up with a prediction by directly observing the solar magnetic field rather than simply counting sunspots, which provides only a rough gauge of activity inside the Sun.

Because this is a relatively new approach, there is only data from four complete cycles, but by combining three sources of solar observations with estimates of the Sun's interior activity, the team was able to produce a prediction in 2008 that matched the activity that was observed over the past 11 years.

NASA says that these predictions will not only help to protect astronauts, but also unmanned missions as well as the growing networks of Earth-orbiting satellites on which our civilization is coming to depend on more and more.

Source: NASA

2 comments
Fletcher
No kidding, it's called the Maunder Minimum a ~350 year solar cycle (like the 11 year pole shift cycle of the sun) that has been observed back 5 cycles (1800 years) and we're just getting into it. I like how they say "the Sun is moving into an 11-year period of minimal sunspot activity," which really also means the planet will be cooler due to less solar activity, the Van Allen belts will be weaker because they won't be charged up by the sun, more cosmic rays will get in which will cause more cloud layering, which will lead to slightly cooler summers and possibly warmer winters. But all that goes against the "global warming", whoops forgot we don't call it that anymore, I mean climate change derived by the Science Centered Analysis Method (SCAM) that humans are responsible for all climate change. My bad, forget I said anything, I don't know what I'm talking about. However, it will probably only be safe for the 1st 5 years for space travel, as the last 5-6 years there are off chances of large dangerous coronal holes developing as the sun starts ramping back up to normal.
ljaques
I can't believe that NASA actually believes that the sun is variable. It doesn't show in =any= of their extremist climate hysterics. Someone tell Beta. He's like AOC, thinking we have only 12 years or the entire Earth (and everyone and every other lifeform on it) are dead.