Here is the space weather forecast for the launch of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope

Strong winds and rain at the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, are behind the latest delay in the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. But there’s also another type of weather that could interfere with the Big Telescope’s orbit travel: space weather. So what does the space weather forecast look like for the big day in international astronomy ahead?

NASA experts are closely monitoring three aspects of space weather give the permession James Webb Space Telescopelaunch of: the global geomagnetic activity index (also known as the Kp index), the state of the Van Allen belts (the two regions around the Earth where high energy particles are trapped by the field magnetism) and solar energy particles that sometimes escape from the sun.

“The impacts of space weather come in many forms and can cause problems in what we do,” said Jim Spann, head of space weather at NASA headquarters in Washington. in a report. “We’re going to have to be very careful with the space weather.”

Related: How the James Webb Space Telescope works in pictures

How can each of the three aspects of space weather affect the James Webb Space Telescope? And what does the space weather forecast hold for tomorrow?

the Kp index, attentively observed by those who wish to glimpse northern Lights, is a measure of the disturbance of the Earth’s magnetic field caused by the solar wind, the flow of charged particles emanating from the Sun. Its value ranges from 0 to 9. A rating greater than 4 is considered a geomagnetic storm. If that was planned, the James Webb Space Telescope would likely have to stay put because magnetic disturbances could affect the spacecraft’s ability to communicate with Earth.

So far, it looks like the Kp Index will not stop the (already heavily delayed) launch. The current forecast for tomorrow, December 25, calls for values ​​between 1 and 3, depending on SpaceWeatherLive.com.

The James Webb Space Telescope launch crews are also closely monitoring the amount of electrons trapped in the Van Allen Belts. These two donut-shaped regions extend above the Earth at altitudes of 400-6,000 miles (650-9,660 kilometers) and 8,400-36,000 miles (13,500-60,000 km) respectively.

The Earth’s magnetic field traps particles from the sun in the Van Allen belts. When a solar storm hits the planet, the belts are reactivated, which could eventually cause problems for a passing spacecraft by accumulating an electrical charge on its surface.

“You know when you take something out of the dryer, and if you touch somebody, you get that zap?” Spann said. “This is what can happen when you load the surface of a spaceship.”

During these zaps, excessive currents flow through the spacecraft’s circuits, which could eventually cause a short circuit or affect the performance of the solar panels.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Environmental Operational Geostationary Satellite 17 (GOES-17) measures electronic content in the Van Allen Outer Belt so that James Webb Space Telescope teams fully understand the risks.

The last problem is the so-called solar energetic particles (SEP), the extremely fast electrons and photons ejected from the sun at speeds of thousands of miles per second. Scientists still cannot reliably predict their presence in space around Earth, but they seem to be more common when there are active regions on the sun, places from which solar flares can erupt.

If a spaceship is hit with an SEP, its computer can become completely confused, mixing 0’s for 1’s in its binary code. According to NOAA Space Weather Forecast Center, there is currently no risk anticipated for the Christmas Day launch of the James Webb Space Telescope.

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Dale D. Schrum