Scientists unravelling mysteries of Earth`s Van Allen radiation belts

Last Updated: Thursday, December 5, 2013 - 12:25

Washington: Researchers are unravelling the longstanding mysteries surrounding the Van Allen radiation belts that circle Earth.

The discovery used measurements taken by a University of New Hampshire-led instrument on board NASA`s Van Allen Probes twin spacecraft to reveal that the high-energy particles populating the radiation belts can be accelerated to nearly the speed of light.
This mode of action is analogous to that of a particle accelerator like the Large Hadron Collider.

However, in this case, the Earth`s vast magnetic field, or magnetosphere, which contains the Van Allen belts, revs up drifting electrons to ever-higher speeds as they circle the planet from west to east.

Co-author Harlan Spence , director of the UNH Institute for the Study of , and Space, principal scientist for the ECT, said that the acceleration they first reported operates on the scale size of an electron`s gyromotion-it is a really local process, maybe only a few hundred meters in size.

He said that they`re we`re seeing this large-scale, global motion involving ultra low-frequency waves pulsing through Earth`s magnetosphere and operating across vast distances up to hundreds of thousands of kilometers.

Spence asserted that with the Van Allen Probes, I like to think there`s no place for these particles to hide because each spacecraft is spinning and `glimpses` the entire sky with its detector `eyes`, so we`re essentially getting a 360-degree view in terms of direction, position, energy, and time.

The discovery has been published in the journal Nature Communications.


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First Published: Thursday, December 5, 2013 - 12:25

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