One of the worries that NASA has to face when it sends humans and spacecraft to explore planets or other parts of the solar system is solar activity. Solar activity can result in intense bursts of radiation being thrown into space. On Earth, the magnetosphere protects us, and intense solar activity isn’t an issue for our health but could interrupt electronics and satellites in orbit.
However, for humans in space, solar storms can be a serious issue. NASA has been working on forecasting solar activity to determine when it can launch manned missions without putting the health of the astronauts in jeopardy. Solar activity follows an 11-year cycle, and the forecast for the next solar cycle predicts it to be the weakest of the last 200 years.
NASA predicts that the maximum number of sunspots in the next cycle could be 30% to 50% lower than the most recent cycle. NASA says that the next solar cycle will start in 2020 and reach its maximum level in 2025.
The solar forecast is good news for NASA as it is working on putting astronauts, including the first woman, on the Moon under the Artemis program. Forecasting solar activity is harder than forecasting the weather on Earth. Many of the solar processes that affect its activity can’t be directly measured; they have to be estimated from surface activity like sunspots.
Science also doesn’t understand everything about the workings of the Sun. NASA is basing its forecasts on data gathered over the last four solar cycles. Such data didn’t exist before that time. NASA scientists used its forecast method to make predictions about the Sun over its last solar cycle in 2008, and the method performed well. Perhaps this means humans will walk on the Moon again this decade.