NASA Scientists Demonstrate Technique to Improve Particle Warnings that Protect Astronauts

Our constantly-changing sun sometimes erupts with bursts of light, solar material, or ultra-fast energized particles — collectively, these events contribute to space weather. In a study published Jan. 30, 2017, in Space Weather, scientists from NASA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, or NCAR, in Boulder, Colorado, have shown that the warning signs of one type of space weather event can be detected tens of minutes earlier than with current forecasting techniques – critical extra time that could help protect astronauts in space.

Scientists from NASA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research have shown that data from a ground-based instrument called K-Cor can give scientists early warning of a certain type of incoming space weather that can impact astronauts. This composite image shows a coronal mass ejection, a type of space weather linked to solar energetic particles, as seen from two space-based solar observatories and one ground-based instrument. The image in gold is from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, the image in blue is from the Manua Loa Solar Observatory’s K-Cor coronagraph, and the image in red is from ESA and NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory.
Credits: NASA/ESA/SOHO/SDO/Joy Ng and MLSO/K-Cor


Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere protect us on the ground from most of the harmful effects of space weather, but astronauts in low-Earth orbit — or even, one day, in interplanetary space — are more exposed to space weather, including bursts of fast-moving particles called solar energetic particles, or SEPs.

“Robotic spacecraft are usually radiation-hardened to protect against these kinds of events,” said Chris St. Cyr, a space scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author on the study. “But humans are still susceptible.”

Source: NASA


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