The Best of 2013 // #92: Third Radiation Belt Around Earth Discovered

An extra Van Allen belt lasted about a month and may have been caused by a shock wave from the sun.

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third Van Allen belt
A third radiation belt, found unexpectedly between the usual two, was discovered by the orbiting Van Allen Probes. Astronomers believe it was likely the result of a solar shock wave.

Earth has magnetic fields that gather energized solar particles and forms two belts circling our planet.  Known as the Van Allen Belts, the closest ranges from around 400 to 4,000 miles above earth and the furthest reaches out to 40,000 miles.  In February 2013, NASA made the stunning announcement that they had, albeit briefly, observed a third belt around the Earth.

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On August 20th, 2012, NASA launched twin probes, the Van Allen probes to study the radiation belts.  Between September 3rd and September 6th, the probes’ instruments detected particles that made up a third belt between the previously known two.  It then disappeared in early October.

Scientist theorize a shock wave or disturbance from the sun disrupted the outermost belt, moving particles further toward the earth, forming a temporary belt.  They also suspect another shock wave later in the month dissipated it.

The Van Allen Radiation Belts can be harmful to satellites that encounter them, leading the aerospace industry to conduct much more research to better understand this phenomenon

There’s more stories from 2013.  Check out the Best of 2013 series here

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