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How Did The Temporary Radiation Belt
In The Earth's Upper Atmosphere Appear And Disappear?

22 June, 2013

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MessageToEagle.com - Scientists have long believed that the Van Allen radiation belts in in the Earth's upper atmosphere discovered in 1958, consisted of two doughnut-shaped rings of highly charged particles - an inner ring of high-energy electrons and energetic positive ions, and an outer ring of high-energy electrons.

However, in February of this year, a team of scientists reported the surprising discovery of a previously unknown third radiation ring.

This narrow ring had briefly circled the Earth between the inner and outer rings in September 2012 and then almost completely disappeared.


A diagram showing Earth's Van Allen radiation belts together with a more recently discovered belt that contains trapped interstellar matter. Credit: NASA/Van Allen Probes/Goddard Space Flight Center


How did this temporary radiation belt appear and dissipate?

In new research funded by the NASA, which launched the twin Van Allen probes in the summer of 2012, the radiation belt group in the UCLA Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences explains the development of this third belt and its decay over a period of slightly more than four weeks.

By performing a "quantitative treatment of the scattering of relativistic electrons by electromagnetic whistler mode waves inside the dense plasmasphere," the investigators were able to account for the "distinctively slow decay of the injected relativistic electron flux".

The experiment demonstrates why this unusual third radiation belt is observed only at energies above 2 mega-electron-volts.



Click on image to enlarge

A graphic depicting the twin Van Allen Probes in orbit within Earth's magnetic field. Credit: JHU/APL


Understanding the processes that control the formation and ultimate loss of such relativistic electrons is a primary science objective of the NASA Van Allen Probe Mission and has important practical applications, because the enormous amounts of radiation the Van Allen belts generate can pose a significant hazard to satellites and spacecraft, as well to astronauts performing activities outside a spacecraft.

The research is available in the online edition of the journal Geophysical Research Letters will be published in an upcoming print edition.

MessageToEagle.com

See also:
NASA's Storm Probes Begin To Explore One Of The Most Hazardous Regions Of Space - The Van Allen Belts!

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