Space weather forecasting should be improved to guard future Artemis astronauts

NASA has its sights set on the moon. It desires to send astronauts back to the lunar surface by 2026 and establish a long-term presence there by the 2030s. But the moon shouldn’t be exactly a habitable place for humans.

Cosmic rays from distant stars and galaxies in addition to solar energetic particles from the Sun bombard the surface, and the impact of those particles can pose a risk for human health.

Both galactic cosmic radiation And Solar energy-rich particlesare high-energy particles that move at almost the speed of sunshine.

While galactic cosmic radiation trickles all the way down to the moon in a comparatively regular stream, high-energy particles are available large bursts from the sunThese particles can penetrate human skin and increase the chance of cancer.

The Earth has a magnetic field that protects it from high-energy particles from space. The Moon, then again, has no magnetic field, so its surface is vulnerable to bombardment by these particles.

During a big solar particle event, the radiation dose received by an astronaut in a spacesuit can exceed 1,000 times the dose someone receives on Earth. This would exceed the beneficial dose for an astronaut Lifetime limit by 10 times.

NASA's Artemis programwhich began in 2017, goals to ascertain a human presence on the Moon for the primary time since 1972. My colleagues and I on the University of Michigan CLEAR Center, the middle for all-clear in Septemberare working to predict these particle ejections from the Sun. Predicting these events could help protect future Artemis crew members.

A group of astronauts in blue jumpsuits stand or kneel on a stage in front of a screen displaying the Artemis logo.
With Artemis, NASA plans to return humans to the lunar surface.
AP Photo/Michael Wyke

An 11-year solar cycle

The Moon might be exposed to dangerous levels of radiation in 2024 because the Sun approaches the height of its 11-year solar cycleThis cycle is driven by the Sun's magnetic field, whose overall strength changes dramatically every 11 years. When the Sun reaches its maximum activity, as much as 20 large, high-energy solar particle events can occur every year.

Both Solar flaresthat are sudden bursts of electromagnetic radiation from the sun, and coronal mass ejectionsthrough which large amounts of matter and magnetic fields are ejected from the sun can produce high-energy particles.

A coronal mass ejection erupting from the Sun.

The sun is anticipated to achieve its solar maximum in 2026, the planned launch date of the Artemis III mission, which is meant to land a crew of astronauts on the lunar surface.

While researchers can track the Sun's cycle and predict trends, it's difficult to guess exactly when each event involving high-energy solar particles will occur and the way intense it should be. Future astronauts on the Moon will need a warning system that may more accurately predict these events before they occur.

Prediction of solar events

In 2023, NASA funded a five-year Space Weather Center of Excellence called CLEARwhose goal is to predict the probability and intensity of solar particle events.

Meteorologists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are currently Space Weather Prediction Centerthe middle that tracks solar events cannot issue a warning of an approaching event of energetic solar particles until it actually detects a solar flare or coronal mass ejection, which it detects by studying the sun's atmosphere and measuring the X-rays emitted by the sun.

Once a meteorologist detects a solar flare or coronal mass ejection, the high-energy particles typically reach Earth in lower than an hour. However, astronauts on the lunar surface would wish more time to hunt shelter. My team at CLEAR goals to predict solar flares and coronal mass ejections before they occur.

Two images of a sphere with purple and green lines emanating from it. On the left, the purple lines emanate from above and the green lines emanate from below. On the right, the lines are scattered and overlap.
The solar magnetic field is incredibly complex and may change over the course of the solar cycle. On the left, the magnetic field has two poles and appears relatively easy, but on the best, later within the solar cycle, the magnetic field has modified. When the solar magnetic field looks just like the image on the best, solar flares and coronal mass ejections are more common.
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Bridgman, From

Although scientists don’t yet fully understand what causes these solar events, they do know that the Sun's magnetic field is one in all the predominant drivers. In particular, they’re studying the strength and complexity of the magnetic field in certain regions on the surface of the sun.

At the CLEAR center, we are going to monitor the Sun’s magnetic field using measurements from ground-based and space-based telescopes and Machine learning models predict solar events – hopefully greater than 24 hours before they occur.

With the forecasting system developed at CLEAR, we also hope to give you the option to predict when the particle flux will return to secure levels. This will allow us to inform astronauts when it’s secure to depart their shelter and proceed their work on the lunar surface.

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