28 Feb '13, 10pm

Van Allen Belts: How Little We Knew Ye: NASA probes reveal unexpected dynamism and strange structures in Earth...

Van Allen Belts: How Little We Knew Ye: NASA probes reveal unexpected dynamism and strange structures in Earth...

From the time James Van Allen discovered the Earth-girdling radiation belts that bear his name in the 1950s, their structure has seemed stable and settled: two nested toroidal whirlpools of particles, with an inner belt of high energy electrons and protons circulating 1600 to 13000 kilometers above the surface; an outer belt consisting primarily of electrons boiling at altitudes of 19 000 to 40 000 km; and a separating, low-energy “slot.” The structure might throb and pulse a bit in the solar wind, but it otherwise seemed as solid and reliable as the moon. It’s not. Surprising data—fresh off NASA’s twin new Van Allen Probes—has forced scientists to revise that picture. The belts are far more mutable than anyone had imagined. NASA launched the project’s identical satellites (originally christened the Radiation Belt Storm Probes) on 30 August 2012. The next day, a major coro...

Full article: http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/at-work/test-and-measu...

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