Simply speaking, there are two kinds of solar eruptions. Solar flares are a quick flash that travel at the speed of light, taking eight minutes to reach Earth and at least 14 minutes to get to Mars. That's not a lot of time to scramble out of the way, says Alex Young, associate director for science in the heliophysics science division at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
"If I was going to be (an astronaut) on Mars, I would have some sort of monitor on Mars. I would be looking at the sun on Mars," Young told Discovery News. Young suggests a future mission - much like what is portrayed in "The Martian" - would include a telescope to keep an eye on what the sun is doing.
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Then, if the astronauts saw trouble coming, they would go to radiation-resistant bunkers, such as underground structures or those built with radiation shielding. Water is one possibility, and there are also researchers at the NASA Langley Research Center investigating new radiation-resistant materials, such as nylon embedded with boron and nitrogen.
Coronal mass ejections (CMEs), a second type of solar eruption, are clouds of particles that speed along quickly, taking a several hours to a few days to get to our planet. For Mars, there's 50 percent more warning, meaning it might take the fastest-moving CMEs 27 to 30 hours for the particles to get there. But they're higher-energy and longer lasting than the solar flare, which could lead to higher radiation exposure.