Our constantly-changing sun sometimes erupts with bursts of light, solar material, or ultra-fast energized particles — collectively, these events contribute to space weather. In a study published Jan. 30, 2017, in Space Weather, scientists from NASA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, or NCAR, in Boulder, Colorado, have shown that the warning signs of one type of space weather event can be detected tens of minutes earlier than with current forecasting techniques – critical extra time that could help protect astronauts in space.
Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere protect us on the ground from most of the harmful effects of space weather, but astronauts in low-Earth orbit — or even, one day, in interplanetary space — are more exposed to space weather, including bursts of fast-moving particles called solar energetic particles, or SEPs.
“Robotic spacecraft are usually radiation-hardened to protect against these kinds of events,” said Chris St. Cyr, a space scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author on the study. “But humans are still susceptible.”