NASA's Vallen Allen probe's latest updates suggest that Earth's inner radiation belt emits less radiation than expected. The reason for this conclusion was the detected presence of a fewer number of superfast electrons, which are also known as relativistic electrons.
This must cheer space agencies and spacecraft flying in the region. Discovered 50 years ago, radiation belts are still under study for understanding their behavior patterns.
The observations affirm that the super electrons in the inner radiation belt are not that prominent as had been thought earlier. This concrete finding stemmed from the new capability attained by the mission to identify super electrons distinctly.
The findings have been published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.
Particle Detection From New Spectrometer
The new finding was enabled by the capability achieved by scientists from the Magnetic Electron and Ion Spectrometer (MagEIS) instrument that is attached to the mission for distinctly identifying high-energy protons and super electrons reigning the inner radiation belt.
"We've known for a long time that there are these really energetic protons in there, which can contaminate the measurements, but we've never had a good way to remove them from the measurements until now," noted Seth Claudepierre, lead author and Van Allen Probes scientist with the Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California.
The study has offered rare insights on the inner belt and belied the notion that it was relatively static compared to the outer belt.
A strong geomagnetic storm in June 2015 had pushed down relativistic electrons into the inner belt, but the finding has added surprise that such super fast electrons are few in the inner belt contrary to what was expected by the scientists.
Among the two radiation belts, the outer belt has been considered a violent one. It pulsates dramatically, expands, and shrinks in response to the pressure from solar particles and magnetic field in the context of geomagnetic storms when charged particles sweep down from the sun throughout the solar system.
Benefit For Space Exploration
The finding that there are lower levels of radiation will positively help spacecraft flying in the region. Advance knowledge of radiation levels can help in developing lighter and cost-effective satellites that can face moderate radiation.
Earlier, Van Allen Probes were known by the name Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) deputed to study the twin regions of space called Van Allen Radiation Belts that surround the Earth.
The name comes as a tribute to the discoverer, James Van Allen. The concentric radiation belts are packed with high-energy particles that bounce and drift in the region. Occasionally, they also seep down to the atmosphere of Earth, and the particles also push into space.
The Van Allen Probes is NASA's second mission under the "Living with a Star Program" and one of the several heliophysics missions studying the near-Earth environment.
The mission takes vital data by plunging through the radiation belts multiple times a day at its elliptical orbit with the spacecraft's capacity to assess the physical processes that are adding and deleting electrons.