Thursday, December 15, 2011

Curiosity and the Solar Storm

Dec. 14, 2011: On Nov. 26th, Curiosity blasted off from Cape Canaveral atop an Atlas 5 rocket.  Riding a plume of fire through the blue Florida sky, the car-sized rover began a nine month journey to search for signs of life Mars.
Meanwhile, 93 million miles away, a second lesser-noticed Mars launch was underway.  Around the time that Curiosity’s rocket was breaking the bonds of Earth, a filament of magnetism erupted from the sun, hurling a billion-ton cloud of plasma (a “CME”) toward the Red Planet.
Curiosity and the Solar Storm (two launches, 558px)
The two Mars launches of Nov. 26, 2011. On the left, a solar explosion hurls a CME toward the Red Planet (Credit: SOHO). On the right, the Mars Science Lab or "Curiosity" lifts off from Cape Canaveral. (Credit: Howard Eskildsen of Titusville, FL) 
There was no danger of a collision—Mars rover vs. solar storm.  Racing forward at 2 million mph, the plasma cloud outpaced Curiosity’s rocket by a wide margin. 
Next time could be different, however.  With solar activity on the upswing (Solar Max is expected in 2012-2013) it’s only a matter of time before a CME engulfs the Mars-bound rover.



Glenn A. Walsh, Project Director,
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