Mind the weather when you set out to explore Space
Scientists are working on making space weather predictions more accurate as it plays an important role in space exploration.
Monsoon’s here and you are reasonably sure when it will arrive in your state or even city, based on fairly reliable weather predictions. But, do you know that scientists also predict space weather before any man-made mission to space is undertaken? Space weather essentially is about the radiation in the solar system. Something we are protected from, thanks to the earth's magnetic field.
There is an interesting anecdote about how in August 1972, in between the Apollo 16 and Apollo 17 missions, a solar storm raged just as one mission had ended. Any delay in the return of the mission could have resulted in a catastrophe. Does it remind you of any movie?
Scientists are working on a new method that will increase the accuracy of space weather predictions.
Space weather depends on the “mood” of the Sun too, where radiation from solar flares increase and decease over time. The Sun's activity rises and falls in a cycle of 11 years.
The next solar cycle predicted by researchers will be the weakest in the past 200 years. The intensity of solar cycle is predicted using sunspots. Sunspots are the number of sunspots and groups of sunspots present on the surface of the Sun. It is also called as Wolfe number. Researchers are expecting the next cycle to start in 2020. And will reach its maximum in 2025.
Sunspots have magnetic fields that are thousands of times stronger than the Earth’s.
The problem in predicting solar radiation is the lack of knowledge about the inner working of Sun, leave alone what happens on its surface, which also can’t be directly measured. But if we learn more about the Sun, we will be in a better position to predict space weather.
Earlier, scientist used the number of sunspots present to track magnetic activity, but now we directly observe the magnetic field emanating from the Sun’s surface. The catch is that data is available only for the past four solar cycles. Too less to make accurate predictions.
Space weather prediction is not only meant to protect human beings sent to space, but, also to to protect satellites and other missions out in space.