NASA has selected the mission that will study how the Sun generates and releases giant space weather storms – known as solar particle storms – into planetary space.
SunRISE (the Sun Radio Interferometer Space Experiment), which will be led by University of Michigan (UM) in Ann Arbor and managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, is expected to launch in 2023.
The US$62 million mission will offer a new view of what goes on in the area above the Sun’s surface, the solar corona.
NASA also hopes it will help protect astronauts travelling to the Moon and Mars in the future by providing better information on how the Sun’s radiation affects the space environment they must travel through.
“We can see a solar flare start, and a coronal mass ejection start lifting off from the Sun, but we don’t know if it is going to produce high energy particle radiation, and we don’t know if that high energy particle radiation is going to reach Earth,” says UM’s Justin Kasper.
“One reason why is we can’t see the particles being accelerated. We just see them when they arrive at the spacecraft, which isn’t much of a warning.”
SunRISE is an array of six CubeSats, each about the size of a toaster oven, operating as one very large radio telescope.
They will fly within 10 kilometres of each other above Earth’s atmosphere and simultaneously observe radio images of low-frequency emission from solar activity and share them via NASA’s Deep Space Network.
Together, they will create 3D maps to pinpoint where giant particle bursts originate on the Sun and how they evolve as they expand outward into space.
This, in turn, will help determine what initiates and accelerates these giant jets of radiation.
“The CubeSats will give us an entirely new view of how particles are accelerated near the sun and how they travel into interplanetary space by making the first images of the sky at very low radio frequencies from 20 Mhz to below 1 Mhz,” Kasper says.
“The jury is still out on what accelerates the particles and where that acceleration occurs.
“It turns out the various theories about particle acceleration correspond to different parts of coronal mass ejections. So if we can see which part of the CME is glowing in radio, we figure out which acceleration model is right.”
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