Earth’s radiation belts consist of energetic particles that are encircle the planet and are trapped by the geomagnetic field. The radiation belts usually form a two-zone structure, but last February, a team of scientists reported the surprising discovery of a previously unknown third radiation ring, which just now has been explained.
Images © NASA
Recent observations by UCLA space scientists, revealed a third radiation zone at “ultrarelativistic” energies, resulted from a combination of electron losses to the interplanetary medium and the electromagnetic waves from Earth’s atmosphere.
This region ranging from about 1,000 to 50,000 kilometers above Earth, is filled with electrons so energetic they move close to the speed of light.
Yuri Shprits, a research geophysicist with the UCLA Department of Earth and Space Sciences, said:
“In the past, scientists thought that all the electrons in the radiation belts around the Earth obeyed the same physics. We are finding now that radiation belts consist of different populations that are driven by very different physical processes.”
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