Solar Event Detected on Earth, Mars, and Moon: Significant Findings for Space Missions
On October 28th, 2021, a remarkable solar event sent shockwaves throughout the solar system. A coronal mass ejection (CME) erupted from the Sun, releasing a wave of solar energetic particles (SEPs) that spread across vast distances in space. This event marked a historic moment as it was the first solar event measured simultaneously by robotic probes on Earth, Mars, and the Moon.
Among the robotic probes involved in these groundbreaking measurements were the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and Eu:CROPIS orbiter from the European Space Agency (ESA), NASA’s Curiosity rover and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and China’s Chang’e-4 lander. Additionally, valuable data was collected by ESA’s Solar Orbiter, Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), and BepiColombo missions.
This solar event was classified as a ground level enhancement, a rare occurrence where energetic solar particles pass through Earth’s magnetic field and reach the surface. In fact, since the 1940s, only seventy-three ground-level enhancements have been detected, making this event truly exceptional.
The significance of studying solar particle events and space weather phenomena was underscored by this event, especially for missions beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO), such as future endeavors to the Moon and Mars. Astronauts face a heightened risk of radiation exposure beyond Earth’s protective magnetic field, which can lead to serious health problems.
To mitigate these risks, astronauts are recommended to limit their exposure to 1,000 mSv, which corresponds to a 3% risk of exposure-induced death over their careers. Radiation shielding and advanced instruments playing a vital role in ensuring the safety of astronauts. For instance, the International Space Station (ISS) features designated areas with wall shields designed to protect astronauts from incoming energetic particles.
In preparation for future Moon missions, the Lunar Gateway, a planned stopover point, will also be equipped with instruments to monitor the radiation environment. Furthermore, NASA and ESA are collaborating on developing next-generation space suits that offer improved radiation protection for deep-space exploration.
The data gathered by robotic missions, such as the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, are invaluable in informing the development of effective protection measures for human explorers. Understanding the intricacies of solar events and space weather phenomena is crucial to ensuring the safety and success of future space missions to celestial bodies beyond Earth. This recent unprecedented solar event serves as a stark reminder of the challenges that lie ahead and highlights the importance of continued research and innovation in this field.
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