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The Mars Camera of Curiosity Was Affected by the Strongest Solar Flare in Years

The solar maximum, or the Sun’s highest point in activity for this cycle, is approaching. Here on Earth, the impacts have been witnessed by all of us in the form of radio blackouts and a series of breathtaking aurorae that were visible at lower latitudes than usual. Not long after the aurorae, the sunspot causing the chaos shifted to the opposite side of the Sun. Its repercussions were seen throughout the Solar System as it released the largest solar flare in perhaps twenty years there.

The strong light and ensuing stream of particles exploding from the Sun were detected by European Space Agency (ESA) spacecraft from the orbit of Mercury all the way to Mars. NASA also maintained observatories on and around the Red Planet, where they were both impacted and prepared to observe the event.

Solar and space physicist Dr. Miho Janvier of ESA stated, “The reason why the X-class flare that happened on the other side of the Sun is really interesting is because it’s associated with particles that were on the path of BepiColombo as well as Mars Express,”

According to estimates from ESA’s Solar Orbiter, sunspot AR 3664 produced a solar flare on May 20. The flare, an X-12, was the strongest since September 7, 2005 (but it may have been somewhat stronger due to an incident in 2017). Over the course of several minutes, the flare emitted X-rays and gamma rays that reached Mars. A coronal mass ejection with charged particles following behind the light event occurred after the light event.

Three NASA missions addressed the incident’s aftermath. For almost an hour, the star camera on board the Mars Odyssey spacecraft was not working. The spacecraft uses this camera to determine its orientation, and high-energy solar particles bombarded it.

Because of its thin atmosphere and lack of magnetic field, Mars provides little more protection from the ground than from orbit. The cameras on Curiosity, which were impacted by the particle stream, captured this.

Radiation dosage from the incident was measured by the rover’s Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) at 8,100 micrograys. That is the same as thirty chest X-rays, which is worrying for future astronauts who will be traveling in deep space during the solar maximum but definitely not fatal.

MAVEN was the other NASA project that benefited the most from the occasion. The Mars aurorae have been observed by the orbiter. Since there is no magnetic field—as was previously mentioned—particles just hit the atmosphere without being redirected toward the poles. Additionally, MAVEN witnessed the occurrence turning Mars into a Christmas tree.

According to a statement from Christina Lee, the MAVEN Space Weather Lead at the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, “this was the largest solar energetic particle event that MAVEN has ever seen.” “There have been several solar events in past weeks, so we were seeing wave after wave of particles hitting Mars.”

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