Science

NASA Ships In Danger Of Being Hit By Eruptions From Sun

By Matthew Klickstein , Apr 25, 2013 02:40 PM EDT

Three solar eruptions fired toward Mercury by the sun may end up hitting one NASA spacecraft and will hopefully pass by another, according to NASA. These solar storms have been fulminating over the course of two days and are comprised of plasma and charged particles in waveform, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs).

The NASA spacecraft that might be hit by the solar flares is Stereo-A, which has been observing the sun while orbiting around the Earth. The NASA spacecraft that will hopefully see the solar flares pass by it on their way to Mercury is the Messenger probe, whose mission has been orbiting Mercury itself since March 2011.

"The Messenger and Stereo mission operators have been notified," NASA officials said. "There may be some particle radiation associated with this event, which in the worst case scenario can impact computer electronics on board interplanetary spacecraft. If warranted, operators can put spacecraft into safe mode to protect the instruments from the solar material."

The trio of plasma clouds travelled away from the sun at speeds greater than 1.8 million miles per hour (2.9 million kilometers per hour). The first CME erupted on Saturday, April 20 at 2:54 a.m. EDT (0655 GMT). The other two waves gushed forth toward Mercury on Sunday, April 21 at 3:54 a.m. EDT (0754 GMT) and 12:39 p.m. EDT (1639 GMT).

"When aimed directly at Earth, the strongest solar flares and eruptions can pose a threat to satellites and astronauts in space, and interfere with navigation, communication and power infrastructure on the surface," Space.com reports.

The mission of the Messenger spacecraft — completing a full map of the surface of Mercury for the first time — was extended for a year after it had accomplished this feat in March 2012.

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