How Solar Storms This Year Will Help Mars Astronauts in the Future (Mars Report – April 2024)

April 29, 2024
CreditNASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC/Scientific Visualization Studio/SDO/LASP-University of Colorado Boulder/MSSS
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The Sun’s activity will be at its peak in 2024, providing a rare opportunity to study how solar storms and radiation could affect future astronauts and robots on Mars. This peak period – called solar maximum – will be observed by NASA’s MAVEN (Mars Atmospheric and Volatiles EvolutioN) orbiter and Curiosity rover. Learn how both spacecraft have a big year ahead in this video featuring MAVEN Principal Investigator Shannon Curry of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Solar maximum occurs roughly every 11 years. During this period, the Sun is especially prone to throwing fiery tantrums in a variety of forms, such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections. These events launch radiation deep into space. When a series of these solar events erupt, it’s called a solar storm.

Earth’s magnetic field largely shields our home planet from the effects of these storms. But Mars lost its global magnetic field long ago, leaving the Red Planet more vulnerable to the Sun’s energetic particles. Researchers are excited to potentially gather data on just how intense solar activity can get at Mars. Among the preparations space agencies will need to make for sending humans to the Red Planet is what kind of radiation protection astronauts would require.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the MAVEN mission.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California leads the Curiosity mission.

For more information on MAVEN, go to:

For more information on Curiosity, go to:


Shannon Curry - MAVEN Principal Investigator

Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder

This is a big year for NASA's MAVEN orbiter. What it could learn can someday help future astronauts safely land on Mars, and provide us with a new view of the Sun.


This is mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This is where all of the data from MAVEN comes through. Ten years ago, we sent MAVEN to Mars to measure space weather and how it interacts with the upper atmosphere. This includes solar flares, which are giant explosions on the Sun, which send radiation into space.

Every 11 years, the Sun goes through cycles of activity. This year, we’ve seen more space weather than we ever have during the entire mission. And while solar flares can occur at any time, they occur more frequently and more intensely at the peak of this cycle, called solar maximum.

Right now, we’re almost at that peak, and I’m really excited about what solar flares can teach us about the Red Planet.

MAVEN is one of two missions studying radiation at Mars. The orbiter is able to observe many phenomena from the Sun, including radiation, high-energy particles, and magnetic fields.

MAVEN can also see stunning auroras from its vantage point high above the planet, which future astronauts might be able to see someday.

Meanwhile, down on the surface of Mars, the Curiosity rover has a radiation detector called RAD. It studies high-energy particles that get all the way through the atmosphere and down to the surface. Together, MAVEN and Curiosity give us a better understanding of the radiation environment at Mars.

Studying how intense solar flares can get during solar maximum can help NASA develop protection for future astronauts, robots, and spacecraft.

There’s another advantage to studying the Sun from Mars.

Here on Earth, we can only see one side of the Sun. But when MAVEN is on the other side, it can spot activity coming days before we can.

On a personal note, MAVEN is my spacecraft baby, and I am so excited about observing the next few years of solar flares, space weather, and the atmosphere of Mars.