A new solar storm prediction system based in Antarctica could provide astronauts in space warning time of over two hours for them to take cover after massive flares or Coronal Mass Ejections erupt from the Sun. The South Pole Neutron Monitor is able to forecast the radiation intensity of solar protons using two different types of neutron detectors installed at the geographic South Pole, which measures gigaelectron volt neutrons that are produced during a solar storm.
The designers of the device have been testing it and say it could provide a warning times of up to 166 minutes, depending on the protons’ energy. Additionally, the team says, it is a practical system for forecasting peak intensity of solar energetic protons in the tens to hundreds of megaelectron volt energy range.
With activity on the Sun increasing as the Solar Maxiumum approaches, there will likely be heightened rates of flares and CMEs, putting at risk the human presence in space, which will likely be ever-increasing, with the advent of commercial space flights and NASA’s plans to send astronauts into deep space, along with crews of six that are usually on board the International Space Station. Even people in airplanes at high altitudes near the poles can be exposed to this increased radiation. Exposure can potentially cause radiation sickness, with symptoms such as fever and vomiting.