NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover has caught a glimpse of a huge sunspot, indicating a region of high solar activity, on the far side of the Sun which will turn to face Earth in the coming days.
“Because Mars is orbiting over the far side of the sun, Perseverance can see approaching sunspots more than a week before we do,” a blog post on spaceweather.com states. “Consider this your one-week warning: A big sunspot is coming.”
The sunspot was captured by Perseverance’s Mastcam-Z. According to NASA’s website, the main job of Mastcam-Z is to “take high-definition video, panoramic colour and 3D images of the Martian surface and features in the atmosphere.”
The rover, whose mission is to analyse the surface of the Red Planet and look for potential ancient signs of life on Mars, took a moment from its usual tasks to take a look up.
Perseverance takes pictures of the Sun every day to measure the amount of dust in Mars’s atmosphere. But this image revealed a structure on our central star’s surface which caught scientists’ attention.
Sunspots are cool, dark regions on the Sun’s surface where the magnetic field is particularly strong. It is usually from these active regions that solar flares and coronal mass ejections originate. These expulsions push plasma, ionising matter and high-energy charged particles at great velocity into space.
As the Sun enters the maximum of the 25th Solar Cycle, such activity is expected to increase.
If coronal mass ejections reach Earth, they could have a disruptive impact on communications satellites, power grids and navigation.
For now, Perseverance has done its bit to give us Earthlings a heads up.
It will now continue on its journey across the floor of the 45-km wide Jezero Crater, picking up rocks and taking pictures of structures along with its helicopter buddy Ingenuity to help us better understand Mars and its ancient past.