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Extreme space weather could jeopardize NASA's Artemis moon missions


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Extreme space weather could jeopardize NASA's Artemis moon missions

The blazing hot ball of gas at the center of our solar system could prove problematic for future moon explorers. Although it sits some 93 million miles from Earth, the activity that occurs on the sun's surface blasts radioactive particles out into the solar system. Earth's magnetic field protects us from the worst of this activity down here, but astronauts out on the moon are naked (...except for the spacesuits, I hope.)

A new study, published in the journal Solar Physics on Thursday, suggests NASA's upcoming Artemis missions to land humans on the moon might have a tricky experience with space weather. Analyzing 150 years of data, the researchers found some intriguing differences in the occurrence of extreme space weather events between even- and odd-numbered solar cycles.

"Until now, the most extreme space-weather events were thought to be random in their timing and thus little could be done to plan around them," said Mathew Owens, an astrophysicist at the University of Reading.   

Solar cycles occur in 11-year blocks and see the inferno's magnetic fields flip north and south. We've only recently entered the odd-numbered Solar Cycle 25, which began sometime in December 2019 and will continue until about 2030. Activity on the sun will ramp up to the solar maximum, set to occur around 2025.

During the solar maximum, the sun gets wild as the magnetic field readies for its big flip. It experiences huge "coronal mass ejections" -- mammoth releases of plasma that billow out into the cosmos. These emanate away from the sun and, if they're pointed directly at the Earth, can affect things like communications satellites and even power grids. And that's with the protection of a magnetic field.

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The sun is having global warming, please save us.

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