Predicting Space Radiation
Astrophysicists from the University of New Hampshire’s Space Science Center (SSC) have created the first online system for predicting and forecasting the radiation environment in near-Earth, lunar, and Martian space environments. The near real-time tool will provide critical information as preparations are made for potential future manned missions to the Moon and Mars.
He notes further that the space science community has traditionally viewed radiation hazards in space as a “showstopper” and that until PREDICCS there has never been an extremely accurate, nearly real-time means of challenging that.
“There hasn’t been enough work done to ask, ‘Is it really a showstopper and, if so, why, and what are the problems we need to solve so that it isn’t a showstopper?’”
That work has now been done, and the proof is in PREDICCS.
Among other satellite measurements used by PREDICCS are solar energetic particle data from the Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation (CRaTER) instrument on NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. CRaTER, whose principal investigator is Harlan Spence, director of EOS and a co-developer of PREDICCS, has made the most accurate and comprehensive measurements of radiation at the Moon since the dawn of the space age.
During several recent large solar events in which the Sun, waking from an unusually long quiet period, sent billions of tons of high-energy particles rippling through space, the radiation levels measured by CRaTER as it orbited the Moon were matched almost perfectly by PREDICCS.
“For the whopping solar events of January 23 and March 27 of this year, our predictions seem to be within 20 to 30 percent of what was observed, which is incredible. These types of highly accurate comparisons have never been made before,” Schwadron says.
CRaTER, which gauges radiation doses using a high-tech material called “tissue-equivalent plastic” that mimics human muscle, has thus not only provided the validation that PREDICCS models are accurate, but has done so in the context of how the radiation data would impact human beings on the Moon or on a mission to Mars.
“We needed to accurately assess what the biological impacts are to make the best quantitative comparisons between models and observations,” says Schwadron, “and having a system like this in place now is sort of like flying a trial balloon in preparation for a return to the Moon and a trip to Mars.”
“Complex applications like EMMREM are able to leverage observations from all relevant space missions,” notes NASA’s Madhulika Guhathakurta, LWS program scientist.
A blog has been developed for PREDICCS that allows people to understand how the tool works and how to interpret the various graphs of radiation dosage.
Note’s Schwadron, “For the first time people are able to see the affects of space radiation playing out in near real-time, and this opens a new window to an otherwise invisible world.”
The goal of the LWS is to develop the scientific understanding needed for the U.S. to effectively address those aspects of the connected Sun-Earth system that may affect life and society. The program’s Targeted Research and Technology objectives can be achieved by data analysis, theory and modeling, and the development of tools and methods.