In an unprecedented astronomical occurrence, a solar outburst hit the Earth, the Moon, and Mars, all simultaneously.
An extraordinary solar event known as a “ground level enhancement” was observed hitting Earth, Moon, and Mars simultaneously on 28 October 2021. This groundbreaking discovery adds to our understanding of space radiation, a concern for future interplanetary missions.
An Unprecedented Solar Outburst
On 28 October 2021, the sun erupted in a coronal mass ejection that spread energetically over a vast area, impacting Mars and Earth despite their 250 million kilometers apart. This marked the first time that a solar event’s effects were measured simultaneously on Earth, the moon, and Mars.
Detected by an international fleet of spacecraft, the event, published in Geophysical Research Letters, was an example of a rare “ground level enhancement.” This occurrence, only the 73rd since the 1940s, aids in improving our understanding of the impact of solar outbursts and the protections offered by a planet’s magnetic field and atmosphere.
Understanding the Dangers of Space Radiation
The moon and Mars lack their magnetic fields, allowing sun particles to reach their surfaces, and even interact with the soil to produce secondary radiation. Though Mars has a thin atmosphere, slowing down highly energetic particles, these solar events can be potentially lethal.
Astronauts face the risk of radiation sickness. A dose above 700 milligray may cause destruction of bone marrow, leading to severe symptoms. More than 10 gray would likely be fatal within two weeks.
Protection Against Radiation
During the 28 October event, lunar orbit dose was only 31 milligray, but even this level could exceed safe doses if no radiation protection is provided. It is vital for the success of future crewed missions to the lunar surface to understand these events.
By comparing the measurements of different locations, like those made by ExoMars TGO and Curiosity rover on Mars, the protection offered by Mars’s atmosphere becomes evident. TGO measured 30 times more radiation than the surface, highlighting the importance of studying this solar event from various angles.
Instruments and Measures for Safety
Understanding and predicting intense radiation events is essential for space agencies like ESA. Dedicated instruments measure radiation in space and offer potential protections, like specialized bodywear or seeking shelter. Current safety measures include retreating to specific shielded areas on the International Space Station.
The Artemis program, planning to send astronauts to the moon, includes a space station with three suites of instruments to monitor radiation. These will be crucial for understanding interplanetary space environments.
Space agencies are also developing protective clothing to minimize radiation impact. Research comparing two mannequins, one unprotected and the other with a newly developed vest, is ongoing.
Preparing for Future Exploration
Colin Wilson, ExoMars TGO project scientist, emphasizes the reality of space radiation’s danger. Measurements of high-level radiation events are vital for long-duration crewed missions. “Thanks to data from missions like ExoMars TGO, we can prepare for how best to protect our human explorers.”
This unprecedented solar event opens new doors to understanding the dangers of space radiation. By continually monitoring and researching these phenomena, scientists are making strides to ensure the safety of our future interplanetary explorers.
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