Mars Rover facing Sun radiation following solar flare

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    Mars Rover facing Sun radiation following solar flare. Solar flares have been causing much disruption in communication and night-time repose with the brilliant Northern Lights, but now the effects are building up in gravity with the Mars Rover now getting taste of the CME blast.

    NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory MSL was peacefully gliding on its way to Mars, collecting useful data for earthbound scientists when suddenly the sun flared up and ejected a burst of CME (coronal mass ejection). Poor ‘Curiosity’ Rover was caught in the onslaught and though not really fried, but did get a shock through her instrument that recorded radiation levels of her surroundings.

    Curiosity’s Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) is a small coffee can-sized instrument that was tucked inside the robot to collect radiation data on the Martian surface after Curiosity lands on August 6. Usually spaceships are bathed in constant radiation from various stellar objects in the space around them. But the burst of high-energy particles slamming on RAD from the soalr flare was strong enough to risk damaging the sensitive electronics and biology.

    Don Hassler, RAD principal investigator of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, explained, “We only have a few hours of data downloaded from the RAD so far, but we clearly see the event. This (solar particle event) encounter is particularly exciting in light of the alignment between the Earth, MSL and Mars right now and for the next few months. It will be very interesting to compare the RAD data, collected from inside the capsule, with the data from other spacecraft.”

    Now scientists such as the solar physicists and space weather scientists are eager to get their hands on the recordings from RAD. Since the number of radiation measures from different instruments is directly proportional to the accuracy in the research and elation of the scientists, the shocked RAD has become a celebrity instrument among the scientific community.

    Hassler said, “RAD was designed to characterize radiation levels on the surface of Mars, but an important secondary objective is measuring the radiation during the almost nine-month journey through interplanetary space to prepare for future human exploration,” Hassler said. “Not only will this give us insight into the physics of these giant clouds, but like an astronaut, RAD is tucked inside the MSL ‘spacecraft. Measurements from RAD will give us insight about the shielding provided by spacecraft for future manned missions in deep space.”

    NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center has confirmed that this solar flare is the strongest and largest flare since the infamous Halloween Storms of 2003. This can very well mean that Curiosity might have been at the right place at the right time since collecting solar flare radiation was not its mission, collection Martian data was!

    Hassler elaborated further, “Not only will this give us insight into the physics of these giant clouds, but like an astronaut, RAD is tucked inside the MSL ‘spacecraft’.  Measurements from RAD will give us insight about the shielding provided by spacecraft for future manned missions in deep space.”

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