NASA places great importance on forecasting space weather, a term used for radiation in the solar system.
By knowing roughly what weather one might encounter up in space, NASA can better prepare its astronauts and explorations.
Down on Earth, we are protected from radiation by our magnetic field, but up in space that protection doesn't exist.
A recent research study, currently still underway, is concentrating its efforts on predicting space weather. As NASA is working towards its next Moon mission, the Artemis program, with its first woman astronaut, is of particular interest.
The research notes that the next solar cycle, typically lasting 11 years, will be the weakest in the past 200 years. Good news for our fellow astronauts!
The next cycle is due to begin in 2020.
How did researchers discover the solar cycle forecast?
Led by Irina Kitiashville, a researcher in the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute at NASA's Ames Research Center, in California, U.S., the team used observations from two previous NASA missions, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, and the Solar Dynamics Observatory, along with data collected since 1976 from the National Solar Observatory.
What sets Kitiashville's research method apart from others is the team's use of raw material. Their approach uses direct observations of magnetic fields appearing on the surface of the Sun - new data that has only existed for the last four solar cycles (essentially 44 years).
The team used this method for their forecasting prediction back in 2008 too, which was put to the test over the past decade, the latest solar cycle. What they discovered was a very accurate relation between their forecast and reality.
This new research will help to plan improved protections for space missions and astronauts as they take the next steps into deep space. It will also benefit the technology we already depend on such as satellite missions, landers and rovers on Mars and the Moon as well as telecommunications satellites we use regularly.
With promising upcoming peaceful space weather, the ride should be a smooth one for our friends at NASA.