Relativistic Electrons Revealed with NASA's Van Allen Probes

The Earth’s radiation belts are two doughnut-shaped regions of charged particles that encircle the Earth. Although discovered over 50 years ago we are still learning new information about them. New observations from NASA’s Van Allen Probes mission have recently shown that the fastest, most energetic electrons in the inner radiation belt are not present all the time like scientists thought.   

The two twin Allen Probe spacecraft orbit one behind the other and thus can investigate clues in a way a single spacecraft never could. Using instruments on the Van Allen Probes, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the New Mexico Consortium along with others have discovered something new about this near space region. 

By recently being in the right place at the right time during a geomagnetic storm event, the Van Allen Probe instruments have found that there typically is not as much radiation in the inner belt as previously assumed. 

The double observations from the Van Allen Probes has given us our first view of these radiation belts from the inside of this region. This new knowledge helps us to understand how to better protect aircraft and astronaughts traveling in this region. 

The results from this finding have been published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

During a strong geomagnetic storm, electrons at relativistic energies, which are usually only found in the outer radiation belt are pushed in close to Earth and populate the inner belt. The inner belt can remain for months. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith

Read more about this discovery in:

Science Daily article "Relativistic Electrons Uncovered with NASA's Van Allen Probes"

and the NASA article "NASA Spacecraft Investigate Clues in Radiation Belts"


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