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Space Tsunamis of Plasma Wave Caused Third Van Allen Belt

Jun 22, 2016 06:35 AM EDT
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Earth survives torrential forces of the universe on a daily basis. The Earth magnetosphere, where Earth's magnetic field is dominant, protects the planet from solar winds.

The magnetosphere deflects plasma from solar winds that came from the Sun. A new study by the University of Alberta discovered that there's a third Van Allen Belt within the Earth's magnetosphere caused by ultra-low frequency plasma waves.

Before the latest study, scientists believed that there are only two Van Allen belts, the region within Earth's magnetosphere where high-energy protons and electrons are trapped.

In the new study published in Nature Physics, researchers at the University of Alberta discovered that a "space tsunami" created a third Van Allen radiation belt. The ultra-low frequency (ULF) plasma waves created the unexplained feature of the third belt.

"Remarkably, we observed huge plasma waves," Ian Mann, physics professor and lead author of the study, said in an interview with Eurekalert. "Rather like a space tsunami, they slosh the radiation belts around and very rapidly wash away the outer part of the belt, explaining the structure of the enigmatic third radiation belt."

Typically the deflection process creates a celestial display, but when solar winds are most violent it can cause extreme space weather followed by intense radiation in the Van Allen belts. This can cause electrical current to damage terrestrial electrical power that also threatens the Earth.

In 2013, NASA was able to detect a third Van Allen belt within Earth's magnetosphere before it was destroyed by a shock wave from the Sun. But no one can explain the science behind its formation until the researchers from the University of Alberta published their findings pointing to the intense ultra-low frequency (ULF) plasma waves that created the third Van Allen belt, according to TechTimes.

"We have discovered a very elegant explanation for the dynamics of the third belt," Mann said in a statement. "Our results show a remarkable simplicity in belt response once the dominant processes are accurately specified," added Mann.

The study also emphasized the importance of the plasma waves in reducing space radiation that is considered a threat to satellites during space storms. Space radiation can be a risk to satellites that mankind heavily relies upon today.

The team presented a three-year work plan to address space weather threat to Earth. The study is crucial in maintaining the satellites that serve a ton of purpose for the Earth from GPS systems to weather forecasts, satellite-based communications and more. The understanding of solar winds and the factors that can affect the Earth's magnetosphere in integral on Earth's day to day operations and of course, the safety of all living beings inside the Earth's atmosphere.

 

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