Radiation belt discovered: A previously unknown band of radiation was discovered around Earth, but it disappeared last year, scientists have found.
Scientists have said that a previously unknown band of radiation surrounded the Earth last year, but was dispersed by a shock wave emitted by the Sun.
There are two radiation bands, known as the Van Allen belts, that are said to ebb and flow depending on solar storms and the weather in space. These two regions, named after their discoverer, James Van Allen, consist of magnetically trapped charged particles. When these two zones swell, it can pose a danger to telecommunications, GPS satellites, and humans in space.
“The fantastic new capabilities and advances in technology in the Van Allen Probes have allowed scientists to see in unprecedented detail how the radiation belts are populated with charged particles and will provide insight on what causes them to change, and how these processes affect the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere,” John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for science in Washington, said in a statement.
The new observations were made by the two NASA Van Allen probes launched Aug. 30, which are part of the Energetic Particle, Composition, and Thermal Plasma (ECT) instrument suite at the Space Science Center at the University of New Hampshire. The discovery was published in the journal “Science” last week.
“We watched in amazement as the outer radiation belt disappeared rapidly, but not completely; a small sliver of very energetic electrons remained at its inner edge, which we dubbed the ‘storage ring,’” University of New Hampshire astrophysicist Harlan Spence, principal investigator for the ECT suite, said in a press release.
He added: “When the main outer electron belt reformed over subsequent days, it did so at a greater distance than where the storage ring was located, thus creating the transient, three-belt structure. The textbook was being rewritten right before our eyes.”
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