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.