The Next Voyage

Every single major advancement in Human history has begun with a journey. It started with an expedition across the vast expanse of the Sahara. It matured when we crossed the oceans. And now we stand at a fortunate moment in history as we begin to venture into the darkness of space. And much like the sandstorms of the desert or the hurricanes in the ocean, space travel comes with its set of problems. We face a new storm - one of the sun.

Solar Storms are massive bursts of plasma ejected from the corona of the Sun. They carry an energy equivalent of 160 billion megatons of TNT (and you guys were worried about the hydrogen bombs). There can be up to five such ejections every day. Shielded within the earth's magnetic sheath, we are relatively safe. Space, however, presents a whole different playground. If such a storm were to strike a space shuttle or satellite, it would be reduced to its basest elements. On earth, we can see this celestial drama in the more pleasant form of auroras.

In 1859, when the largest solar storm hit earth, telegraph systems all over Europe and North America failed, in some cases giving telegraph operators electric shocks. Telegraph pylons threw sparks. In a world ever more dependent on electronics and satellite communication, any such storm would lead to major communication failures resulting in anything in between complete power grid failure and a nuclear holocaust. Predictability, therefore, becomes an indispensable requirement.

We at Center of Excellence in Space Sciences, India are involved in studying the internal processes of the sun with a hope to obtain models that can predict these storms. We are also involved in the scientific work related to the Aditya Missions to be launched by ISRO. This shall provide us an ever closer glimpse of the sun. Any success would cement India as a global leader in space weather and, with persistent efforts from associated areas, maybe we shall see us humans hunting for life in Europa.

Published:- 22nd February, 2016