Epic Solar Storm Effects Seen by Mars Rovers

You are looking at Mars. See the dots in this scene like old TV snow? They are Solar energy particles An epic solar storm erupted on May 20. The particles struck a camera on board NASA curiosity On Mars, the rover’s cameras capture images of dust devils and winds similar to those seen here. Scientists are studying space weather on Mars to see what future astronauts might encounter there. via image NASA/ JBL-Caltech.

JPL originally published this article on June 10, 2024. Edits by EarthSky.

An epic solar flare seen from Mars on May 20

Martian scientists have been anticipating epic solar storms since the Sun entered peak activity earlier this year. This peak in the 11-year cycle is called the solar maximum (see video Here) in the past month, NASA’s Mars rovers and orbiters have given researchers a front-row seat to solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that have reached Mars.

This scientific bonanza has provided an unprecedented opportunity to study how such events unfold in deep space and how much radiation exposure the first astronauts on Mars could have encountered.

The largest event seen from Mars was a solar flare on May 20, then rated as X12. X flares are the strongest of the many types of solar flares. The Solar Orbiter spacecraft, a joint mission between ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA, has seen expansion. It sent X-rays and gamma rays toward the Red Planet, while the subsequent coronal mass ejection introduced charged particles. Moving at the speed of light, the X-rays and gamma rays from the flare arrived first, while the charged particles retreated slightly, reaching Mars in ten minutes.

Images of radiation hitting Mars

Researchers at Moon to Mars Space Meteorological Office The emerging space weather was closely monitored at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. They also flagged the possibility of incoming charged particles following a coronal mass ejection.

During the May 20 event, high energy from the storm hit the surface, black-and-white images from Curiosity’s navigation cameras showed the „snow” dance. It showed white streaks and spots caused by charged particles that hit the cameras.

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Gray mountains under a light gray sky with particles and lines appearing and disappearing in the foreground.
of NASA curiosity Mars used one of its navigation cameras to capture the black-and-white streaks and dots as particles from the solar storm hit the Martian surface. These visual artifacts come from energetic particles striking the camera’s image detector. via image NASA/ JBL-Caltech.

Similarly, the energy of solar particles was absorbed by NASA’s 2001 camera Mars Odyssey Orbiter uses for orientation. This barrage left it in no time. (Odyssey has other options and retrieves the camera within an hour.) Despite a brief miss on its stellar camera, the orbiter used its high-energy neutron detector to collect important data on X-rays, gamma rays and charged particles.

And, this isn’t Odyssey’s first brush with sunlight. In 2003, solar particles from a large X45 solar flare fried Odyssey’s radiation detector, which was designed to measure such events.

Space weather on Mars affects future astronauts

Had the astronauts been standing next to NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at that time, they would have received 8,100 micrograms of radiation, the equivalent of 30 chest X-rays. Although not fatal, it is the largest surge measured by Curiosity’s Radiation Assessment Detector, or RADThe rover landed 12 years ago.

RAD’s data will help scientists plan for the highest level of radiation exposure that astronauts may encounter. Astronauts can use the Martian terrain for protection.

RAD’s Principal Investigator, Don Hassler Solar System Science and Research Division, Southwestern Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado; said:

The rocks or lava tubes provide Extra armor For an astronaut from such an event. In Martian orbit or deep space, the dose rate is significantly higher.

Auroras on Mars

In the past month, NASA’s Mars rovers and orbiters have given researchers a front-row seat to the solar flares and coronal mass ejections that have reached Mars. In some cases, they have even caused Martian auroras.

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of NASA Maven (Mars Atmosphere and Evaporation Evolution) captures bright auroras over the orbiting planet. The way these auroras occur is different from what is seen on Earth.

A strong magnetic field protects our planet from charged particles. That magnetic field usually restricts auroras to regions near the poles. The current solar cycle — likely a maximum — is behind recent auroras seen as far south as Alabama.

However, Mars lost its internally generated magnetic field in the ancient past, and is therefore not immune to the attack of energetic particles. When charged particles hit the Martian atmosphere, it results in auroras that engulf the entire planet.

During solar events, the Sun emits a variety of energetic particles. Only those powerful enough to measure RAD can reach the surface. MAVEN’s Solar Energetic Particle instrument can detect slightly lower-energy particles, including those that make up auroras.

Scientists can use the instrument’s data to reconstruct a timeline of each minute, as solar particles scream past, meticulously teasing out how the event evolved.

Christina Lee University of California, Berkeley’s Space Science Laboratory and Maven Space Weather Lead, said:

This is the largest solar energetic particle event MAVEN has ever observed. There have been several solar events in the past weeks, so we’ve seen tidal waves of particles hitting Mars.

The entire globe of Mars orbits many purple spots on the night side.
The purple color in this video shows the nighttime auroras on Mars detected by NASA’s ultraviolet instrument. Maven Orbiter between May 14 and 20, 2024. The brighter the purple, the more auroras there were. Without an active magnetic field, Mars sees all the auroras. via image NASA/ University of Colorado/ LASP.

How Maven and Curiosity Study Solar Flares

Watch this video to learn how NASA’s MAVEN and the agency’s Curiosity rover study solar flare and radiation on Mars during solar zenith.

Bottom line: The Sun sheds its particles into the Solar System, and this study of space weather on Mars helps us understand what future astronauts might encounter there.

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via JBL

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