BEACON TRANSCRIPT – Scientists at NASA discovered a technique that might improve the accuracy of weather forecasts in space and provide a better protection of the astronauts from harmful solar storms.
Our sun has a constant stellar activity, meaning that it unleashes powerful flares quite often. Besides these flares, it performs coronal mass ejections (CME), which represents eruptions of solar plasma. These phenomena are known to send solar energetic particles (SEP) from the sun towards Earth.
Our planet is protected by its atmosphere and magnetic field, but the astronauts who travel in low-Earth orbit are susceptible to be victims of the powerful solar energetic outbursts.
The scientists who developed the helpful technique used a coronagraph, which is an instrument that block’s the sunlight and lets the astronomers analyze it and see what is inside the sun’s atmosphere, called corona.
Thus, NASA researchers and scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado are now able to spot the activity of SEP much earlier than the techniques currently used for forecast. This will provide a better protection of astronauts in space.
The main technology used for space weather forecast uses space-based coronagraphs. However, this new technique makes use of ground-based coronagraphs, which send information more quickly and at higher resolutions than the other weather satellites.
Christ St. Cyr, space scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center from Maryland, said that space-based coronagraphs sent information every 20 or 30 minutes. For instance, they receive a CME image in one frame and, when the second frame regarding the speed of the ejections arrives, the outbursts already hit Earth. The particles from a CME are more energetic and quick, as they can travel nearly at lightspeed.
Ground-based coronagraphs are much quicker. For this research, scientists used K-Cor, the ground-based coronagraph from the High Altitude Observatory on the top of Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii.
Their findings indicated that such devices could spot SEP 45 minutes before reaching Earth. Scientists are optimistic and they hope that they could bring further improvements to the technique and observe the emissions way before they leave the inner atmosphere of the sun.
At the moment, the images of solar storms captured by K-Cor are available on the internet 15 minutes after they are taken. Currently, the scientists are working on an improvement that would allow them to see the images seconds after they are taken and to offer the information on the internet a minute or two after processing.
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