A recent space mission is under construction. It will try to shed more light on the operations that take place there, but it won’t be prepared before the current solar cycle ends.

“When bursts of charged particles from the sun that form the solar wind hit Earth, strange things happen in the planet’s gaseous coat. Those heavy particles (protons, electrons and heavy ions) collide with atoms in the upper atmosphere, energizing them,” explains Juha Pekka Luntama, the head of space weather at the European Space Agency (ESA).

Most of this energy exchange takes place in the thermosphere. It’s the second-highest layer of Earth’s atmosphere that stretches between altitudes of 60 miles to 360 miles. The surplus energy heats the thermosphere and makes it swell. The thickness of the thin gases that fill this region of space expands. In turn, satellites that are present in the low Earth orbit face more drag and sometimes prematurely fall to Earth.

“When we see an event on the sun, we can give a warning to satellite operators to be cautious and aware,” Luntama said. “But it’s very difficult to forecast exactly how big the impact is going to be and how much the atmospheric drag for the satellites will increase.”

NASA and ESA have ideas for a satellite mission that would assist them in filling those gaps. Making such a mission work properly, however, is quite a challenge, as it would be at extremely high risk of succumbing to the exact phenomenon it would be undertaken to study.

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Alice is the Chief Editor with relevant experience of three years, Alice has founded Galaxy Reporters. She has a keen interest in the field of science. She is the pillar behind the in-depth coverages of Science news. She has written several papers and high-level documentation.

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