The Science Report

by Stuart Gary

Riddle of radiation belt solved

I’ve just written a story for ABC Science about how a half-century-old mystery of how electrons in the heart of the Van Allen Radiation Belts are accelerated to almost the speed of light has finally been solved.

The findings show the electrons are boosted to higher speeds locally through interaction within Earth’s magnetic field, rather than from an outside source.

The Van Allan Radiation Belts are doughnut shaped regions between 30 and 40 thousand kilometres out from Earth, where the planet’s magnetic field traps a plasma of charged particles from the Sun’s solar wind.

The discovery is the latest from NASA’s twin Van Allen Radiation Belt Storm Probes, launched in August last year, to study the Earth’s radiation belts, and how they interact with space weather from the Sun.

In February this year, the probes surprised scientists, by discovering a third, previously unknown Van Allen Radiation Belt.

If you missed my radio report on the story and you want to find out more, check out the online version at:
http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2013/07/26/3810218.htm

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