One of the most common habits of anyone before going on a trip is to take a look at the weather forecast. Nobody wants the rain to bother them on a good day at the beach. This is applicable for trips to the coast, but also to the mountains or anywhere else. It is used to know which are the best days to go on excursions or to decide what clothes to wear. But what if the trip is off this planet? It may seem silly, but it is also necessary to take time into account, since a solar storm it can be much more annoying than a downpour.
For this reason, a team of scientists from the University of Reading has carried out a study in which it analyzes whether there are patterns in the activity of the sun as the solar cycles go by. Until recently it was believed that these patterns did not exist. However, the conclusion of his work is that there are. And what if the Artemis missions, can become a dangerous feat.
What is a solar cycle?
The hot gas that surrounds the sun is in constant motion, generating around it a magnetic field. This, however, is not constant, as it is subject to ordered periodic variations in what is known as a solar cycle.
The solar cycle begins at a minimum in the number of sunspots
These last approximately 11 years and begin when a solar minimum occurs or, what is the same, at the moment in which the star king reaches a minimum in the amount of Sunspots on its surface. These are a visual way to measure the magnetic activity, since they are regions in which it is very intense and, in addition, the temperature is lower than that of the points around it.
Thus, if the number of spots is tracked, it is possible to check when these decrease to a minimum and to know that a new cycle has begun. Throughout this, solar activity undergoes numerous fluctuations, which affect the energy emitted by the sun and its luminosity. They may also have explosive releases of magnetic energy. This is something known as solar storm or geomagnetic storm. Most are not dangerous for us, although they could affect satellites, electrical transformers and radio communication systems. Now, if we leave the Earth, yes they can hurt us. Okay, most of us will never leave this planet, but we have to think about who will.
When can a solar storm happen?
Generally, it is not possible to predict a solar storm. In fact, until now it was thought that they occurred in a practically random way. However, the authors of this recent study, aware of the importance of having them under control for future space missions, decided look for patterns.
We are currently in the solar cycle 25, since they began to measure
To do this, they took data from instruments located in England and Australia, whose function is to measure magnetic fields in the Earth’s atmosphere. In total, there was information from the last 150 years.
With it in their possession, they carried out a statistical model, aimed at finding some type of temporal correlation that would allow predicting when a solar storm may form. They verified that extreme space weather events, like the solar storm, are more likely to occur early in even solar cycles and towards the end of odd ones.
We are currently in the number 25, since measures began to be taken. Started in 2019, so it is expected to end around 2030. Therefore, if this prediction is correct, it will be at the end of the decade in which we find ourselves when a large solar storm is most likely to occur.
The Artemis missions, aimed at bringing humans back to the Moon, are planned for 2024. However, lately the possibility of postponing them has begun to be considered.
Space agencies such as NASA or ESA and private companies such as SpaceX are involved in these missions. Now, with these results, the scientists at the University of Reading hope that all those people behind the project will consider this possibility before deciding whether to postpone it.
Already in August 1972 a large solar storm occurred, right between the Apollo 16 and 17 missions. Fortunately, it did not catch them on the way, or on our satellite. Next time we might not have the same fate. That is why it is necessary to take precautions.