This is because while the Sun can provide heat and light, it is also capable of significantly disrupting things on Earth. Strong solar flares can cause waves of electromagnetic radiation that impact or even overwhelm GPS, telecommunications, and other satellites.
Understanding how the solar atmosphere and magnetic fluctuations translate into these powerful waves was a key part of the SDO mission. It is also able to take images of flares, such as the “significant” solar flare which NASA said was seen peaking at 10:29 a.m. EDT on July 3, 2021.
Just as earthquakes are rated by their strength on the Richter scale, flares are rated by their x-ray wavelength brightness. The most important are class X; M-class flares are medium in size, while C-class flares are small. A number is added to indicate the relative strength within each classification.
The July 3 eruption was classified in the X1.5 class, confirms the NASA, the strongest since 2017. It is far from the most powerful ever observed – in 2003, for example, a solar class eruption. X28 was recorded, with the coronal mass erupting at around 5.1 million miles per hour – although still sufficient to cause problems for orbiting objects and briefly disrupt the radio.
Part of SDO’s mission, therefore, is to understand exactly what causes these eruptions – and potentially to develop more resilient systems to resist their effects. In March 2021, a so-called “Rosetta Stone Eruption” was captured by SDO along with the European Space Agency and NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. This included three different types of solar flares that would more generally occur separately.
“This event is a missing link, where we can see all of these aspects of different types of eruptions in a neat little package,” Emily Mason, lead author of a flare study and solar scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center in The NASA. in Greenbelt, Maryland, explained. “This makes it clear that these rashes are caused by the same mechanism, but on different scales. “
This is important, because not only are the satellites at risk, but potential future crewed missions into the solar system. While Earth’s atmosphere provides a layer of protection for life on the ground, protecting humans, animals and plants outside this barrier is much more difficult. Indeed, ensuring the safety of astronauts for travel to Mars and beyond is one of the main concerns of NASA and other agencies when planning missions.
While it is not possible to reduce solar activity, the hope is that a better understanding of how things like coronal mass ejections (CMEs) form will allow for a longer warning time. In this way, astronauts and spacecraft could save valuable preparation time if a large CME was planned.