NASA must send humans to the moon "within five years" to save astronauts from dangerous "extreme weather events," UK scientists have warned.
Experts at the University of Reading claim the US agency will need to send more people to the lunar surface to avoid a series of extreme weather events in space.
In a new report – published in science journal Solar Physics – the team of academics predicts there will be several severe weather events, including massive plasma eruptions from the sun, between 2026 and 2030.
Having researched space weather data from the 150 years, they warned they will probably occur late in the current 11-year solar cycle..
NASA's next manned Moon mission – Artemis III – is scheduled for launch in late 2024 – 52 years after Apollo 17's Gene Cernan became the last man to walk on the lunar surface.
But experts warned any delay to the programme could put astronauts in danger.
"Until now, the most extreme space-weather events were thought to be random in their timing and thus little could be done to plan around them," said Professor Mathew Owens, a space physicist at the University of Reading.
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This research also revealed space weather events typically star earlier during even-numbered solar cycles and later in odd-numbered ones.
Solar cycle 25 began in 2019, meaning events are more likely to occur in the second half – between 2024 and 2030 .
“These new findings should allow us to make better space weather forecasts for the solar cycle that is just beginning and will run for the next decade or so,” Owens said.
“It suggests any significant space missions in the years ahead – including returning astronauts to the Moon and later, onto Mars – will be less likely to encounter extreme space-weather events over the first half of the solar cycle than the second"
The Apollo 17 launch was almost cancelled in August 1972 by a huge solar eruption, which could have serious issues for the astronauts and their equipment.
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