ESA watches for solar hazards

This week, to coincide with the fifteenth annual European Space Weather Week, ESA is celebrating the dynamic phenomenon of space weather.

Unpredictable and temperamental, our Sun routinely blasts intense radiation combined with colossal amounts of energetic material in every direction, creating the ever-changing conditions in space known as ‘space weather’.

Our magnetic field protects us from the ‘solar wind’ — the constant stream of electrons, protons and heavier particles from the Sun – and from Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), the Sun’s occasional outbursts of billion-tonne clouds of solar plasma into space.

The most extreme events, arrivals of fast CMEs or high-speed solar-wind streams, disturb our protective magnetic shield, creating geomagnetic storms.

These storms have the potential to cause serious problems for modern technological systems, disrupting or damaging satellites in space and the multitude of services — like navigation and telecoms — that rely on them, blacking out power grids and radio communication and creating a radiation hazard for astronauts in space, even serving potentially harmful doses of radiation to astronauts on future missions to the Moon or Mars.

While these events can’t be stopped, advance warning of an oncoming solar storm would give operators of satellites, power grids and telecom systems time to take protective measures.In this report, ESA Web TV takes a look at space weather, highlighting how ESA is working to develop new solar-observing missions and help make Europe more resilient to the Sun’s effects on our daily lives.

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ESA’s future Lagrange mission to monitor the Sun

Space weather describes the changing environment throughout the Solar System, driven by the energetic and unpredictable nature of our Sun. Solar wind, solar flares and Coronal Mass Ejections can result in geomagetic storms on Earth, potentially damaging satellites in space and the technologies that rely on them, as well as infrastructure on the ground.

ESA’s future Lagrange mission will keep constant watch on the Sun. The satellite, located at the fifth Lagrange point, will send early warning of potentially harmful solar activity before it affects satellites in orbit or power grids on the ground, giving operators the time to act to protect vital infrastructure.

ESA is now working with European industry to assess options for the spacecraft and its mission, with initial proposals expected early in 2020.