Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

NASA's Van Allen Probes Reveal Zebra Stripes in Space

20.03.2014

Scientists have discovered a new, persistent structure in one of two radiation belts surrounding Earth

NASA's twin Van Allen Probes spacecraft have shown that high-energy electrons in the inner radiation belt display a persistent pattern that resembles slanted zebra stripes. Surprisingly, this structure is produced by the slow rotation of Earth, previously considered incapable of affecting the motion of radiation belt particles, which have velocities approaching the speed of light.


Two giant belts of radiation surround Earth. The inner belt is dominated by electrons and the outer one by protons.

Image Credit: NASA

Scientists had previously believed that increased solar wind activity was the primary force behind any structures in our planet's radiation belts. However, these zebra stripes were shown to be visible even during low solar wind activity, which prompted a new search for how they were generated. That quest led to the unexpected discovery that the stripes are caused by the rotation of Earth. The findings are reported in the March 20, 2014, issue of Nature.

"It is because of the unprecedented resolution of our energetic particle experiment, RBSPICE, that we now understand that the inner belt electrons are, in fact, always organized in zebra patterns," said Aleksandr Ukhorskiy, lead author of the paper at The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, or APL, in Laurel, Md. "Furthermore, our modeling clearly identifies Earth's rotation as the mechanism creating these patterns. It is truly humbling, as a theoretician, to see how quickly new data can change our understanding of physical properties."

Because of the tilt in Earth's magnetic field axis, the planet's rotation generates an oscillating, weak electric field that permeates through the entire inner radiation belt. To understand how that field affects the electrons, Ukhorskiy suggested imagining that the electrons are like a viscous fluid. The global oscillations slowly stretch and fold the fluid, much like taffy is stretched and folded in a candy store machine. The stretching and folding process results in the striped pattern observed across the entire inner belt, extending from above Earth's atmosphere, about 500 miles above the planet's surface up to roughly 8,000 miles.

The radiation belts are dynamic doughnut-shaped regions around our planet, extending high above the atmosphere, made up of high-energy particles, both electrons and charged particles called ions, which are trapped by Earth's magnetic field. Radiation levels across the belts are affected by solar activity that causes energy and particles to flow into near-Earth space. During active times, radiation levels can dramatically increase, which can create hazardous space weather conditions that harm orbiting spacecraft and endanger humans in space. It is the goal of the Van Allen Probes mission to understand how and why radiation levels in the belts change with time.

"The RBSPICE instrument has remarkably fine resolution and so it was able to bring into focus a phenomena that we previously didn't even know existed," said David Sibeck, the mission scientist for the Van Allen Probes at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "Better yet, we have a great team of scientists to take advantage of these unprecedented observations: We couldn't have interpreted this data without analysis from strong theoreticians."

NASA launched the Van Allen Probes in the summer of 2012. APL built and operates the probes for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. This is the second mission in NASA's Living With a Star program, which Goddard manages. The program explores aspects of the connected sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society.

Geoff Brown / Karen C. Fox
APL / NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Susan Hendrix | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nasa.gov

Further reports about: APL Earth Flight Greenbelt NASA Space activity atmosphere conditions electrons particles spacecraft velocities zebra

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Two dimensional circuit with magnetic quasi-particles
22.01.2018 | Technische Universität Kaiserslautern

nachricht Meteoritic stardust unlocks timing of supernova dust formation
19.01.2018 | Carnegie Institution for Science

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Artificial agent designs quantum experiments

On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.

We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...

Im Focus: Scientists decipher key principle behind reaction of metalloenzymes

So-called pre-distorted states accelerate photochemical reactions too

What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...

Im Focus: The first precise measurement of a single molecule's effective charge

For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.

Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...

Im Focus: Paradigm shift in Paris: Encouraging an holistic view of laser machining

At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.

No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...

Im Focus: Room-temperature multiferroic thin films and their properties

Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.

Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

10th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Münster, 10-11 April 2018

08.01.2018 | Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Thanks for the memory: NIST takes a deep look at memristors

22.01.2018 | Materials Sciences

Radioactivity from oil and gas wastewater persists in Pennsylvania stream sediments

22.01.2018 | Earth Sciences

Saarland University bioinformaticians compute gene sequences inherited from each parent

22.01.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks Wissenschaft & Forschung
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>