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UCLan research to protect astronauts

24 May 2013

Press Office

Spacemen and human technology to be warned against harmful solar flare radiation.

Caption: A burst of solar material leaps off the left side of the sun in what’s known as a prominence eruption. This image combines three images from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured on May 3, 2013, at 1:45 pm EDT, just as an M5.7 class solar flare from the same region was subsiding. The images include light from the 131-, 171- and 304-angstrom wavelengths. Credit: NASA/SDO/AIA

Researchers from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) have developed a method of tracking solar flare radiation that can be used to warn International Space Station astronauts if harmful radiation is heading their way.

Solar flares eject large amounts of particle radiation into interplanetary space. This can disrupt satellite technology and risk radiation exposure of astronauts and even air crews.

It has previously been assumed that this solar particle radiation was magnetically confined as it travelled through space after being released in huge eruptions at the Sun. However, researchers from the Jeremiah Horrocks Institute at UCLan have discovered that solar particle radiation is able to travel large distances across the magnetic field in interplanetary space.

"Our team’s research helps us to understand the movement of solar particle radiation across space, which will help us predict where it will reach and when."

This discovery will help scientists to understand solar particle radiation events and help to predict whether the radiation will arrive at the Earth, which means that astronauts – such as those on the International Space Station – can be warned if they face any risk.

The UCLan team, with Dr Silvia Dalla and Dr Mike Marsh, recently presented their findings to the international conference of the American Geophysical Union in Mexico on Friday 17th May.

Commenting on the research, Dr Marsh said: “Coronal mass ejections and solar flares cause the acceleration and ejection of a large amount of particle radiation into interplanetary space. While we know that they disrupt human technologies such as satellites, we’ve never fully understood how they travel through space.

"This will prove hugely beneficial to various people, not least those living and working in space."

“Our team’s research helps us to understand the movement of solar particle radiation across space, which will help us predict where it will reach and when. This will prove hugely beneficial to various people, not least those living and working in space.”

The research is part of the European research project COMESEP [Coronal Mass Ejections and Solar Energetic Particles]: forecasting the space weather impact.

The UCLan team consists of Dr Mike Marsh, Dr Silvia Dalla and Dr Timo Laitinen, all based at the Jeremiah Horrocks Institute at UCLan.