There’s a new challenge threatening our chances of sending man to the moon (again). No, not your weird cousin who believes the moon landing is a hoax, not aliens, wait for it… weather.
Much like your friends who are investing in Dogecoin, NASA has a goal for the next few years: the moon.
NASA recently awarded SpaceX a schmick contract to develop the lunar lander for the upcoming Artemis mission, which hopes to take humans too (and from) the moon in 2024.
However, it looks like they’ve got bigger issues than Jeff Bezos throwing a tantrum because extreme space weather events could wreak havoc on the whole plan.
A new study, published in the Solar Physics journal on Thursday, analysed 150 years of space weather data and found some particularly interesting patterns.
“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,” Mathew Owens, an astrophysicist at the University of Reading and one of the authors of the paper said.
Solar cycles occur every 11 years, with the most recent cycle – Solar Cycle 25 – beginning in December 2019 and ending in approximately 2030.
We’re expected to reach the solar maximum (aka when the sun’s activity is at its most extreme) around the year 2025, which is dangerously close to the scheduled date of the Artemis mission.
The sun essentially goes buck wild during the solar maximum, and experiences “coronal mass ejections” – which are about as intense as the name suggests.
Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are huge releases of plasma that are thrown out into the universe. They’re very intense, and even with the protection of the Earth’s magnetic field, they still have the power to wreak havoc on things like our satellites and power grids.
However, things are far worse outside the protection of our atmosphere, with astronauts having little more than their spacesuits and their own good luck to protect them.
But the interesting part about the recent study is that they’ve seemingly worked out a pattern that will allow them to loosely make space weather predictions.
Obviously, they aren’t going to be as precise as our earthly forecasts, but they can give more general predictions for odd- and even-solar cycles.
According to their research, extreme weather is more likely to occur later in the Solar Cycle during odd-numbered cycles (aka the one we’re in now).
“These new findings should allow us to make better space weather forecasts for the solar cycle that is just beginning and will run for the decade or so,” Owens said.
Basically, the new study means that NASA doesn’t have any wiggle room when it comes to the Artemis mission if they want to avoid extreme weather in the latter half of the solar cycle.
But despite the research, NASA doesn’t seem too phased by space weather.
“There is no bad weather, just bad preparation,” NASA chief scientist for human exploration Jake Bleacher said in September.
“Space weather is what it is — our job is to prepare.”
TL;DR? Space weather, schmace weather, NASA is going to the moon.