Radiation Measurements: Long-term multi-point radiation missions
ESA spacecraft dotted across the inner Solar System carried out a census of deep space radiation during an entire 11-year solar cycle – and discovered a location where radiation levels remained mysteriously lower than elsewhere. 1)
The survey was based mainly on results from a shoebox-sized instrument called SREM (Standard Radiation Environment Monitor ), placed aboard several ESA spacecraft.
Figure 1: Photo of the SREM instrument (image credit: Paul Scherrer Institut)
"The SREM has been flown on multiple ESA missions, mainly for engineering purposes," says ESA astronomer Erik Kuulkers. "It is used to monitor the rates of highly energetic particles that can cause damage to spacecraft components – as well as living tissue."
"Its results help us to protect spacecraft systems by alerting us to high radiation events, so we can switch operating modes accordingly," adds ESA space environment specialist Hugh Evans. "SREM data have also served to improve the accuracy of our radiation environment models."
"But as this study demonstrates, the instrument's data also have wider scientific value," explains Thomas Honig, the ESA trainee overseeing the study.
"Our focus here was on galactic cosmic rays – protons and heavy atomic nuclei, typically produced by supernovas or other violent cosmic events – to see how their incidence changed in line with the shifting nature of our own Sun as it went through its 11-year solar cycle."
The work was based on cross-calibrated results from the SREM units on ESA's Rosetta comet chaser beyond Mars; the Herschel infrared and Planck microwave observatories at Lagrange point 2, 1.5 million km from Earth; the Integral gamma-ray observatory with its elongated orbit that takes it a maximum 153,000 km from Earth; and the PROBA-1 Earth-observing mission in a 600-km altitude Earth orbit.
As an additional data point the team included radiation data from NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft in orbit around the Red Planet. Its HEND (High-Energy Neutron Detector) detects secondary particles produced by interactions of primary galactic cosmic rays with the martian surface, so its results provided indirect cosmic ray measurements.
"We were able to observe the same radiation from different locations in the Solar System using mostly the same instrument," says ESA planetary scientist Olivier Witasse. "We found that the intensity of galactic cosmic rays within the inner Solar System are related to the Sun's current activity, because the Sun's magnetic field and solar wind can cause them to dissipate – in the same way that Earth's own magnetic field keeps us safe from space radiation."
Figure 2: Space risks – Fighting radiation (image credit: ESA)
A ‘radial gradient' was also observed, due to the diminishing shielding provided by the solar magnetic field towards the outer solar system. To ensure the count rates they were collating came from cosmic rays rather than other radiation sources, the team used the highest-energy channel of the SREM. They also eliminated time periods known to be associated with ‘solar proton events' from Sun-emitted particles, using ESA's Solar Proton Event Archive gathered from satellites in geostationary orbit. In the case of Integral, whose orbit passes through energetic particles trapped within Earth's magnetic field, only high-altitude data was included.
Rosetta was the most far-travelled of all the missions, venturing up to 4.5 times the distance from Earth to the Sun due to its rendezvous with target Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in 2014. It also diverted from the Solar System's ‘ecliptic plane' – the roughly flat plane within which the planets orbit around the Sun.
"Rosetta's SREM showed a mysterious 8% reduction in cosmic ray flux compared to interplanetary space, as the spacecraft reached the comet," explains ESA's Rosetta project scientist Matt Taylor. "We could not account for this due to the spacecraft's position relative to the Sun, or the comet nucleus serving as a shield, since for the majority of the time its angular size relative to Rosetta would have been insignificant.
"Similarly, there is no obvious link between the increasing level of nucleus activity as the comet got closer to the Sun, and its surrounding ‘coma' cloud extended – but the potential shielding of the plasma environment associated with the cometary gas and dust emission cannot be ruled out."
The most recent solar cycle minimum has been exceptionally long and quiet, notes ESA space environment specialist Petteri Nieminen. "This has resulted in much higher cosmic ray incidence and related doses than our engineering models would have predicted for a ‘traditional' solar minimum. So our findings are of interest when it comes to predicting the resilience of future missions into deep space – including human expeditions – since for these the radiation doses and effects will be dominated by cosmic rays."
Table 1: SREM key performance parameters 2)
Figure 3: Comparing Rosetta and Integral SREM results. (a) Integral SREM data and measured and simulated Rosetta SREM data. (b) Computed GCR absorption. (c) Rosetta heliocentric distance. (d) Rosetta-to-nucleus distance. Colors in the background from left to right indicate different stages: when the Rosetta-to-comet distance was above 20,000 km (grey), the pre-perihelion phase (light yellow), the perihelion phase (darker yellow), and the post-perihelion phase (light red), image credit: SREM collaboration
A report on the results was published in the European Geoscience Union's Annales Geophysicae journal. This was a joint study between ESA's Directorate of Science and Directorate of Technology, Engineering and Quality, collaborating with researchers from the Institute of Experimental and Applied Physics of Germany's Kiel University, the School of Earth and Space Sciences of the University of Science and Technology of China, the Department of Physics and Astronomy of the UK's Leicester University and Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany. 3)
The space radiation environment affects both manned and unmanned missions outside the Earth's protecting atmosphere and its magnetic field. Highly energetic particles can penetrate living tissue and a spacecraft's component materials, causing damage due to the deposition of energy. Major sources of this radiation are SEPs (Solar Energetic Particles) and GCRs (Galactic Cosmic Rays). This work focusses on the third source, the GCRs, and in particular on their variations in the inner heliosphere. The variation in galactic cosmic ray intensity depends on different physical processes: inward diffusion in the IMF (Interplanetary Magnetic Field ), adiabatic cooling, outward convection and deceleration in the solar wind plasma, drift along the heliospheric current sheet, and interaction with magnetic structures in shocks and in interplanetary coronal mass ejections (e.g. Potgieter, 2013 [4)]; Moraal, 2013 [5)]; Alania et al., 2014 [6)]; Kozai et al., 2014 [7)]; Giseler and Heber, 2016 [8)]). The GCR intensity therefore varies with the solar wind velocity, the magnitude of the interplanetary magnetic field, solar activity, the heliospheric current sheet tilt angle and the solar polarity change. The study of the effects of GCRs on the Earth's atmosphere and climate is also a fascinating field of research (e.g Carslaw et al., 2002 [9)]; Pierce, 2017; Frigo et al., 2018 [10)]).
This work is based on the analysis of data collected by the Standard Radiation Environment Monitor (SREM) units on Rosetta, INTEGRAL (INTErnational Gamma-Ray Astro-physics Laboratory), Herschel, Planck and Proba-1 spacecraft and on data from HEND (High-Energy Neutron Detector) aboard Mars Odyssey. While INTEGRAL, Herschel, Planck and PROBA-1 are located at around 1 AU from the Sun and HEND orbits Mars with an average heliocentric distance of 1.5 AU, Rosetta's heliocentric distance varied from 1 to 4.5 AU during its mission lifetime. This combined dataset provides a unique opportunity to determine the GCR flux measured over a range of distances of up to 3.5 AU and a time period of more than one solar cycle in interplanetary space. Of special interest are the Rosetta measurements close to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.
1) "ESA missions team up to map cosmic rays across Solar System," ESA / Enabling & Support / Space Engineering & Technology, 12 November 2019, URL: http://www.esa.int/Enabling_Support
3) Thomas Honig, Olivier G. Witasse, Hugh Evans, Petteri Nieminen, Erik Kuulkers, Matt G. G. T. Taylor,Bernd Heber, Jingnan Guo and Beatriz Sánchez-Cano, "Annales Geophysicae, EGU, Vol. 37, pp: 903–918, Published: 25 September 2019, https://doi.org/10.5194/angeo-37-903-2019, URL: https://www.ann-geophys.net/37/903/2019/angeo-37-903-2019.pdf
4) Marius S. Potgieter, "Solar Modulation of Cosmic Rays," Living Reviews in Solar Physics, Vol. 10, 2013, URL: https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.12942%2Flrsp-2013-3.pdf
6) M. V. Alania, R. Modzelewska, A. Wawrzynczak,"Peculiarities of cosmic ray modulation in the solar minimum 23/24," JGR Space Physics, Volume119, Issue6, June 2014, Pages 4164-4174, https://doi.org/10.1002/2013JA019500
7) Masayoshi Kozai, Kazuoki Munakata, Chihiro Kato, Takao Kuwabara, John W Bieber, Paul Evenson, Marlos Rockenbach, Alisson Dal Lago, Nelson J Schuch,Munetoshi Tokumaru, Marcus L Duldig, John E Humble, Ismail Sabbah, Hala K Al Jassar, Madan M Sharma, Jozsef Kóta, "The spatial density gradient of galactic cosmic rays and its solar cycle variation observed with the Global Muon Detector Network," Earth, Planets and Space, Vol. 66:151, 2014, https://doi.org/10.1186/s40623-014-0151-5
8) Jan Gieseler, Bernd Heber, "Spatial gradients of GCR protons in the inner heliosphere derived from Ulysses COSPIN/KET and PAMELA measurements," Astronomy&Astrophysics, Volume 589, May 2016, https://doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361/201527972
9) K. S. Carslaw, R. G. Harrison, J. Kirkby, "Cosmic Rays, Clouds, and Climate," Science, 29 November 2002, Vol. 298, Issue 5599, pp. 1732-1737, https://science.sciencemag.org/content/298/5599/1732.full
10) Everton Frigo, Francesco Antonelli, Djeniffer S. S. da Silva, Pedro C. M. Lima, Igor I. G. Pacca, and José V. Bageston, "Effects of solar activity and galactic cosmic ray cycles on the modulation of the annual average temperature at two sites in southern Brazil," Annales Geophysicae, Vol. 36, pp: 555–564, 2018, https://doi.org/10.5194/angeo-36-555-2018, URL: https://doi.org/10.5194/angeo-36-555-2018
The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: "Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors" (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (firstname.lastname@example.org).