NASA prepares for solar storm surge as new research unravels complexity of solar phenomena

In anticipation of an impending solar storm set to peak by 2025, NASA is intensifying its preparations to mitigate potential impacts on Earth. Recent predictions by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) indicate a revised forecast for Solar Cycle 25, suggesting a stronger-than-expected peak between January and October of 2024.

Solar cycles, recurring roughly every 11 years, mark fluctuations in the Sun’s activity, notably evident through sunspots, areas where the magnetic field is exceptionally strong. With the upcoming peak, concerns are mounting regarding the potential consequences for our planet.

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Probing the Solar Outburst of April 17, 2021

Historically, solar storms have shown their disruptive capabilities. On April 17, 2021, an extraordinary solar eruption sent a massive cloud of solar material hurtling into space, reaching speeds near that of light. This event, observed by multiple spacecraft at various locations between the Sun and Earth, highlighted the diverse nature of solar energetic particles (SEPs) unleashed during such phenomena.

Led by Nina Dresing from the University of Turku, a team of scientists studied the particles’ characteristics and origins. The analysis, published in Astronomy & Astrophysics, revealed that SEPs could pose a threat to technology, including satellites and GPS systems, while humans in space or on polar flight routes might be exposed to harmful radiation.

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Solar Mysteries

Crucially, the research demonstrated that SEPs from this event originated from multiple sources and were propelled in different directions and at varying speeds. The study suggested that electrons and protons, constituting the SEPs, may have distinct origins and accelerations, shedding light on the complexity of solar events.

This discovery underscores the importance of adopting a multi-perspective approach to space exploration. As NASA gears up for future heliophysics missions, including the Geospace Dynamics Constellation, SunRISE, PUNCH, and HelioSwarm, the focus will be on deploying multiple spacecraft to gain a more comprehensive understanding of widespread solar phenomena.

The forthcoming missions, such as MUSE, IMAP, and ESCAPADE, are poised to delve deeper into explosive solar events and particle acceleration within the solar system. As Earth braces for the approaching solar peak, NASA’s commitment to advancing our understanding of these celestial events remains paramount in safeguarding both technology and human endeavours.

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