The Radiation Belt Storm Probes mission, subsequently renamed in honor of the belts' discoverer, astrophysicist James Van Allen, was launched in the pre-dawn hours of August 30, 2012. Shortly thereafter, and well ahead of schedule in normal operational protocol, mission scientists turned on the Relativistic Electron-Proton Telescope (REPT) to gather data in parallel with another, aging satellite that was poised to fall from orbit and reenter Earth's atmosphere. It was a fortuitous decision.
The telescope, which is part of the Energetic Particle, Composition, and Thermal Plasma (ECT) instrument suite led by the Space Science Center at the University of New Hampshire, immediately sent back data that at first confounded scientists but then provided a eureka moment: seen for the first time was a transient third radiation belt of high-energy particles formed in the wake of a powerful solar event that happened shortly after REPT began taking data.
"We watched in amazement as the outer radiation belt disappeared rapidly, but not completely; a small sliver of very energetic electrons remained at its inner edge, which we dubbed the 'storage ring,'" notes UNH astrophysicist Harlan Spence, principal investigator for the ECT suite and a co-author of a paper detailing the discovery published online today in the journal Science. "When the main outer electron belt reformed over subsequent days, it did so at a greater distance than where the storage ring was located, thus creating the transient, three-belt structure. The textbook was being rewritten right before our eyes."
Spence, director of the UNH Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space, adds, "After decades of studying the radiation belts, this was a completely new phenomenon. With the Van Allen Probes' instruments we now have the 'eyes' capable of seeing such remarkable phenomena. We look forward eagerly to the rest of the mission in order to establish how often such extreme radiation belt structures and dynamics may occur."
The Van Allen belts are two donut-shaped regions of high-energy particles trapped by Earth's magnetic field. At the time of their discovery in 1958, they were thought to be relatively stable structures, but subsequent observations have shown they are dynamic and mysterious. However, this type of dynamic three-belt structure was never seen, or even considered, theoretically.
The identical twin satellites chase each other in a common orbit to achieve simultaneous spatial and temporal measurements of the radiation belt environment. The measurement of charged particles is key to the mission, with the ECT suite at the very heart of energetic electron measurements. The instrument suite has the capability to differentiate and precisely measure radiation belt particles on the fly—an extremely complex technical achievement, and necessary to push the science forward.
The suite's science goals address the top-level mission objective to provide understanding—ideally to the point of predictability—of how populations of electrons moving at nearly the speed of light and penetrating ions in space form or change in response to variable inputs of energy from the sun.
Says Spence, "These events we've recorded are extraordinary and are already allowing us to refine and confirm our theories of belt dynamics in a way that will lead to predictability of their behavior, which is important for understanding space weather and ultimately for the safety of astronauts and spacecraft that operate within such a hazardous region of geospace."
Notes Nicky Fox, Van Allen Probes deputy project scientist at The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., "Even 55 years after their discovery, the Earth's radiation belts are still capable of surprising us, and still have mysteries to discover and explain. What the Van Allen Probes have shown is that the advances in technology and detection made by NASA have already had an almost immediate impact on basic science."
The Van Allen Probes project is the second mission in NASA's Living With a Star program to explore aspects of the connected sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society. APL built the probes and manages the mission. The program is managed by NASA Goddard. For more about the Van Allen Probes, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/vanallenprobes and http://vanallenprobes.jhuapl.edu/
For more on the Energetic Particle, Composition, and Thermal Plasma instrument suite visit: http://rbsp-ect.sr.unh.edu/team.shtml.
The University of New Hampshire, founded in 1866, is a world-class public research university with the feel of a New England liberal arts college. A land, sea, and space-grant university, UNH is the state's flagship public institution, enrolling 12,200 undergraduate and 2,300 graduate students.
Photograph to download: http://www.eos.unh.edu/newsimage/304Whip_lg.jpg
Caption: On Aug. 31, 2012, a giant prominence on the sun erupted, sending out particles and a shock wave that traveled near Earth. This event may have been one of the causes of a third radiation belt that appeared around Earth a few days later, a phenomenon that was observed for the very first time by the newly-launched Van Allen Probes. This image of the prominence before it erupted was captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). Credit: NASA/SDO/AIA/Goddard Space Flight Center.
UNH principal investigator Harlan Spence can be reached at 781-439-7262 and Harlan.firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Sims | EurekAlert!
Further reports about: > Earth's magnetic field > Electron-Proton > Energetic > NASA > Plasma technology > REPT > Radiation Belt Storm Probes mission > Relativistic Electron-Proton Telescope > Science TV > Space > UNH > composition > earth's atmosphere > high-energy particles > principal investigator > radiation belt > storage ring > temporal measurements
Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy
24.03.2017 | University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core
24.03.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
27.03.2017 | Earth Sciences
27.03.2017 | Life Sciences
27.03.2017 | Life Sciences