Space: Robin Hanson Reveals What Should Scare You
Earth’s magnetic field contains a weak point “the size of the continental United States” hovering over South America and the South Atlantic Ocean. Scientists say we’re safe from impacts on Earth, but satellites aren’t so lucky – when they pass through the anomaly, they are bombarded with radiation “more intense than anywhere else in orbit.” The region known as the South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA), or the “Bermuda Triangle of Space” in general, lies at the point where the Earth’s magnetic field is particularly weak.
This means that solar cosmic ray particles are not blocked to the same degree as they are elsewhere on the planet.
As a result, solar rays approach the Earth’s surface 124 miles – in a set of probes in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).
John Tarduno, a professor of geophysics at the University of Rochester, explained: “I’m not fond of its nickname, but in that area, the reduced strength of the geomagnetic field eventually causes the satellites to be exposed to more energetic particles, so much so that damage can occur to the spacecraft as it traverses the area. .
Consequently, satellites passing through this region would encounter greater amounts of radiation to the point that damage could be caused.
The International Space Station was affected by radiation
Earth is protected by a magnetic field
Think about an electrical discharge or an arc.
“With more incoming radiation, the satellite could charge, and the accompanying arcs could cause massive damage.”
It normally shields Earth’s magnetic field between 620 and 37,000 miles above the planet’s surface.
But the low altitude of the radiation hotspot puts it in the orbit of certain satellites, which are bombarded by protons whose energies exceed 10 million MeV.
In the early days of the International Space Station, the anomaly smashed astronauts’ computers, forcing space agencies to shut down the systems on board.
Astronauts were also affected by the SAA.
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Part of the Earth’s magnetic field is weak
Some have reported seeing strange white lights flashing before their eyes, and steps have been taken to protect the astronauts since then.
A powerful shield has been placed over the most occupied parts of the International Space Station, such as the exhibition and sleeping quarters, to reduce the amount of radiation that the astronauts are exposed to.
Astronauts also wear dosimeters, which are devices that measure their personal exposure to ionizing radiation in real time, and send out a warning if they reach dangerous levels.
The Hubble Telescope, which passes through SAA 10 times a day and spends about 15% of its time there, is unable to collect astronomical data during these moments.
Failure to take these measures will likely lead to system failure.
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Astronauts on the International Space Station felt the effects in the early days
Dr. Tarduno added, “Putting the equipment in” safe mode “means reducing the operations most vulnerable to radiation.
The damage from SAA can also be very costly, as evidenced when the region sent the Japanese Hitomi satellite to Earth.
Hitomi, or ASTRO-H, has been commissioned by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to study highly energetic processes in the universe.
Just over a month after its launch in February 2016, its operators lost connectivity and the satellite broke into several pieces.
Experts later discovered that the problem was due to the inertial reference unit of the spacecraft reporting a rotation of 21.7 degrees per hour when the spacecraft was already stable.
When the position control system sought to counteract the non-existent rotation, a series of events caused it to break.
Hubble must stop working during trips through anomaly
If the operators had been able to detect the error in real time, they could have corrected it, but it happened while the satellite was traveling through the SAA, so the connection was lost.
The unfortunate saga cost JAXA about $ 273 million (£ 210 million) and three years of prepared studies.
It could cause more problems in the future.
Recent predictions from NASA scientist Dr. Weijia Kuang and Professor Andrew Tangborn of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County show that in addition to migrating westward, the anomaly is increasing in size.
Five years from now, one region could grow up to 10 percent compared to the 2019 values.
Dr Kwang said the bend may also be split, or another weak point might independently appear and hit.
Julian Hubert, a researcher at the Paris Institute for Geophysics, said more research is needed.
“Just like a forecast, you can’t predict the evolution of the core after a few decades,” she said in January.