(ORDO NEWS) — Astronauts of the International Space Station (ISS) found themselves in a potentially dangerous situation when computers on the ISS went offline during a flight in a mysterious region known as the “Bermuda Triangle of Space”.
Earth’s magnetic field has a “US-sized” weak spot that hovers over South America and the South Atlantic Ocean.
Scientists say we’re safe from impact on Earth, but satellites are not so fortunate – when they pass through the anomaly, they are bombarded with radiation “more intense than anywhere else in orbit.”
This region, known as the South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA) or “Bermuda Triangle of Space”, is located at a point where Earth’s magnetic field is particularly weak.
This means that particles of solar cosmic rays do not linger to the same extent as somewhere above the planet.
As a result, the sun’s rays approach the surface of the Earth at a distance of up to 200 km – in the range of satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO).
John Tarduno, professor of geophysics at the University of Rochester, says:
I don’t like the nickname “Bermuda Triangle of Space”, but in this region, the lower geomagnetic field strength ultimately makes satellites more vulnerable to energetic particles, to the point where spaceships can be damaged as they traverse this area.
Thus, satellites passing through this region will be exposed to more radiation, which could damage their equipment.
As the incoming radiation increases, the satellite can be charged, and the accompanying arcs can cause serious damage.
Usually the Earth’s magnetic field protects at an altitude of 997 km to 60,000 km above the planet’s surface.
But the low altitude of the source of radiation puts it in the orbit of certain satellites, which are bombarded by protons, the energy of which exceeds 10 million electron volts.
In the early days of the ISS, the anomaly would have caused astronaut computers to malfunction and shut down its onboard systems. And the astronauts too.
Some astronauts reported seeing strange white lights flashing in front of their eyes, and measures have since been taken to protect the astronauts.
What can astronauts do against bombing?
Above the most frequently used parts of the ISS, strong shields have been installed to reduce the amount of radiation that astronauts are exposed to.
Astronauts also wear dosimeters, which are devices that measure exposure to ionizing radiation in real time and send an alert if they reach dangerous levels.
The Hubble Telescope, which passes through the anomaly 10 times a day and spends about 15 percent of its time there, cannot collect astronomical data at these times.
Failure to follow these measures may result in system failure.
Space disasters due to space anomaly
The damage caused by SAA can also be very costly, as evidenced by the fact that the Japanese satellite Hitomi fell to Earth from behind this area.
Hitomi, or ASTRO-H, was commissioned by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to study the extremely energetic processes in the universe.
A little more than a month after its launch in February 2016, its operators lost contact and the satellite fell apart into several parts.
Experts later discovered that the problem arose from the spacecraft’s inertial reference block reporting a rotation of 21.7 degrees per hour when the ship was virtually stable.
When the attitude control system tried to counteract the non-existent rotation, a sequence of events caused it to break.
If the operators could detect the error in real time, they could correct it, but this happened while the satellite was moving through the anomaly, so communication was lost.
The accident cost JAXA approximately $ 273 million and three years of research.
SSA may create more problems in the future
A recent prediction made by NASA scientist Dr. Weijia Quang and Professor Andrew Tangborne of the University of Maryland in Baltimore County shows that the anomaly is not only migrating westward but is continuing to grow in size.
In five years, this anomalous area could grow by 10 percent compared to 2019 values.
Scientists believe that this anomalous zone is unstable and several of the same anomalies can break away from it, which will manifest themselves in other places.
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