The Invisible Shields of Van Allen Radiation Belts

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Star Trek and many others movies portray space as a realm which has limitless boundaries. We may be insignificant specks in the grand design of this world, but we’re still able to touch the beauty of our galaxy through such movies. Outside our Earth’s atmosphere lie many secrets which are yet to be revealed. Some may be life savers which may have been shielding us from unknown radiations. One such remarkable discovery came to light recently.

The University of Colorado Boulder team has discovered an invisible shield situated about 7200 miles above Earth that blocks “killer electrons” (these whip around the planet at near-light speed & known to threaten astronauts, fry satellites and degrade space systems during intense solar storms. Something quite similar to the force fields shown in sci-fi movies like Star Trek.

There is surely something special about space which is why the scientists call it as the final frontier.

Discovered by Professor James Van Allen and his team at the University of Iowa in the year 1958, the Van Allen radiation belts were found to be comprised of an inner and outer belt extending up to 25,000 miles above Earth’s surface. These two doughnut-shaped rings above are filled with high-energy electrons and protons. Van Allen radiation belts periodically swell and shrink in response to incoming energy disturbances from the sun.

Early observations indicated that the inner zone of the Van Allen radiation belt consisted mainly of high-energy protons and the outer zone by high-energy electrons. Subsequent studies showed that electrons of moderate energy (less than about one megaelectronvolt) often populate both zones, with a deep ‘slot’ region largely devoid of particles between them.

There is a region of dense cold plasma around the Earth known as the plasmasphere, the outer boundary of which is called the plasmapause.

The two-belt radiation structure was explained as arising from strong electron interactions with plasmaspheric hiss just inside the plasmapause boundary, with the inner edge of the outer radiation zone corresponding to the minimum plasmapause location.

these are like the shields created by force fields on Star Trek that were used to repel alien weapons

“It’s almost like these electrons are running into a glass wall in space,” said Baker, the study’s lead author. “Somewhat like the shields created by force fields on Star Trek that were used to repel alien weapons, we are seeing an invisible shield blocking these electrons. It’s an extremely puzzling phenomenon.”

“It’s like looking at the phenomenon with new eyes, with a new set of instrumentation, which gives us the detail to say, ‘Yes, there is this hard, fast boundary.’ said John Foster, associate director of MIT’s Haystack Observatory and a study co-author.

A paper on the subject was published in the Nov. 27 issue of Nature.

We would like to congratulate the team on their achievement.

There is surely something special about space which is why it received the badge – The Final Frontier. It is the pinnacle which still eludes humanity with its marvellous mysteries.

We are not talking about something that is light years away from us, but even just above our Earth’s atmosphere lie many secrets which are yet to be discovered. There could be more or similar such mysteries that science will prove going further.

And till that happens we should on our own level and space down here on this planet, try to aspire and become a much more evolved species than we currently are.

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