While your newsfeed may be filled with reports about flooding and wildfires, space also had an eventful week, including a cosmic threat to Earth.
The big news out of space was the demise of NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft.
Cassini disintegrated over Saturn early Friday morning after studying the planet for 13 years. In total, the spacecraft had a 20 year journey from its launch until its demise.
— NASA (@NASA) September 18, 2017
After its final moments, the spacecraft went silent, sending its final data to scientists through radio waves.
Launched in 1997, Cassini provided a closer view of the ringed planet before burning up in Saturn’s atmosphere. As the first craft to orbit Saturn, it provided new data that could change the way scientists view the planet.
For example, it revealed ocean worlds on the moons Titan and Enceladus, which could harbor life.
However, Cassini wasn’t the only thing lost in space last week.
— NASA Solar System (@NASASolarSystem) September 15, 2017
Over the past week, a series of solar flares have erupted on the sun, one of which was the biggest seen in a decade. If the Earth had been in its path, life as we know it would have been altered for years to come.
While they last for mere minutes, solar flares emit dangerous rays that can reach the Earth, with potentially drastic consequences. Not only can the rays cause damage, the flares can cause a coronal mass ejection, which means that some of the sun’s ionized particles shoot off into space.
— NASA (@NASA) September 11, 2017
The particles would take days to reach Earth, threatening our ecosystem and potentially killing those in the impact zone. Most often, they cause geomagnetic storms.
The solar event over the past few weeks did result in a coronal mass ejection, but the particles did not make impact — this time.
Although the Earth’s atmosphere provides protection, a strong solar flare can still cause damage. Fortunately, the solar flares over the past few weeks missed Earth, though they did affect some GPS systems.