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Huge explosions on the Sun’s surface could decide NASA’s plan to send astronauts to Mars

Huge explosions on the Sun’s surface could decide NASA’s plan to send astronauts to Mars

It's being dubbed an 'unprecedented opportunity.'

NASA is pushing ahead in its human exploration mission on Mars to find the source of previous (alternate) life forms.

However, one hurdle stands in the way: the Sun's huge explosions that occur every 11 years or so.

During this period, the Sun enters peak solar activity causing giant explosions to erupt on the sun's surface - including solar flares and coronal mass ejections.

While Earth is protected from these violent bursts due to its magnetic field, Mars is far more vulnerable to the Sun's energetic particles having lost its defence long ago.


Nonetheless, the American space agency is calling it an 'unprecedented opportunity' to study the Sun's volatility in relation to Mars and whether it affects the safety of future missions.

Doing so should allow scientists to learn more about how hospitable Mars is, so space agencies can determine the radiation protection needed.

Key to this research are two Mars spacecraft: NASA's MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN) and Curiosity.

MAVEN has been orbiting Mars since 2014 and is able to detect solar flare activity early on. Therefore, Mars spacecraft teams can be warned beforehand about any rising radiation levels.

Shannon Curry, principal investigator for NASA’s MAVEN orbiter, said: 'For humans and assets on the Martian surface, we don’t have a solid handle on what the effect is from radiation during solar activity.

'I’d actually love to see the ‘big one’ at Mars this year - a large event that we can study to understand solar radiation better before astronauts go to Mars.'


Meanwhile, the Curiosity rover has been on Mars since 2012 and is on Martian ground gathering data through its Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD).

This technology can measure the level of shielding from radiation astronauts can expect using caves, lava tubes, or cliff faces for protection.

It also examines the way radiation breaks down carbon molecules on the surface, a phenomenon that could affect evidence of previous microbial life.

RAD’s principal investigator, Don Hassler of the Boulder, Colorado, office of the Southwest Research Institute, said: 'While MAVEN’s instruments are more sensitive to lower-energy ones, RAD is the only instrument capable of seeing the high-energy ones that make it through the atmosphere to the surface, where astronauts would be.'

Featured Image Credit: NASA/GFSC/SDO