– A large solar flare, like the x-ray flare on May 27, 2003, bursts on the sun. Masses of plasma then eject from the sun’s corona, creating a huge dose of
high-energy radiation that can reach Earth within a few minutes. The energetic particles are extremely hazardous to astronauts working in space and they
can also affect the operation of the electronics on military or commercial satellites.
The particles cause radiation damage to electronic components, solar cells and materials. They can easily penetrate typical spacecraft walls and deposit
doses of hundreds of kilorads during missions in certain orbits.
Through a $300,000 NASA grant, Dr. Ming Zhang, Florida Tech associate professor of physics and space sciences, is taking measurements obtained by several
interplanetary spacecraft, such as Ulysses, ACE and Voyager, to research these energetic particles. He will investigate how the energetic particles
accelerate from the sun and how they propagate through interplanetary magnet fields to the Earth.
“This investigation will be the basis for developing space weather forecasting tools. Together with real-time monitoring of solar activity, these
instruments will predict the radiation level in the near-Earth space environment and geomagnetic activities that may follow. Space-walking astronauts want
to know when a radiation storm is coming,” said Zhang.
Under another grant, Zhang is developing and testing a novel solid-state detector system for high-energy particle experiments on space missions. He will
measure the trajectory of energetic ions to determine the energy, charge and mass of the particles. The aim of this project is to build much lighter and
more effective particle detectors than those currently in use, such as those on Ulysses and ACE spacecraft.