India Plans Three Projects To Study the Solar Maxima
March 30, 2011 • 12:52PM

Speaking to the media, Siraj Hasan, director of the Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA) said Indian scientists are moving closer to launching three projects that are proposed to be part of a global effort to study the impact of an overheating sun. "The sun is entering a phase known as solar maxima, a period of intense heating that sees an increase in the number of solar flares and in the formation of sun spots. The phase lasts five to six years and follows a period called solar minima, a phase of low activity. The entire cycle lasts about 11 years," Hasan said.

During solar maxima, charged particles such as protons and electrons emitted by the sun's fiery storms or flares, get trapped in Earth's magnetic field, producing currents. These currents, when strong, are capable of producing electrical disturbances that can affect the earth, Hasan explained. Countries in high latitudes, such as Alaska, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Russia, are particularly affected by the occurrence, he said. The three projects—launching of the special telescope on a satellite named Aditya in 2013 under the supervision of the Indian Space Research organization (Isro); NLST (National Large Solar Telescope); and multiple-application solar telescope, or MAST, which is being installed in Udaipur in collaboration with Ahmedabad's Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) to study the magnetic activity on the Sun's surface — will study the effects of solar maxima on space and the Earth, to help estimate precisely how much thermal insulation would be required in spacecraft carrying astronauts. India's first manned space mission is scheduled for 2015. "All the three projects will give a comprehensive picture of activities happening from the Sun's surface to atmosphere in small and large scale," Hasan said.

These studies are expected to help scientists predict eruptions of solar flares and take precautionary measures, said Arnab Rai Choudhuri, an astrophysicist at the Indian Institute of Science. "It takes two days for the flares to reach the Earth's atmosphere, and we can take precautions such as shutting down electronic equipment on satellites to avoid damage, or declare non-flight zones, particularly in polar regions," he said.