Scientists To Study Earth's Radiation Belt With High-Tech Satellite Instruments
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Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
NASA is launching twin satellites on August 24 from Cape Canaveral, Florida that will conduct the most intimate study to date of the Van Allen Radiation Belts that envelop Earth. The two-year Radiation Belt Storm Probes ( RBSP ) mission will study the extremes of space weather and should help scientists improve space weather forecasting.
Space weather doesn’t seem like a big deal to most people on Earth, but, according to one researcher from University of Iowa , everybody is affected by it. Pick up your cell phone to make a call; take a flight on your next vacation; step outside to catch a glimpse of the northern lights; these are all instances where you become affected by space weather. And changes in space weather can wreak havoc on satellites, power grids, and GPS systems.
The Van Allen Radiation Belts , named after UI astrophysicist James A. Van Allen who discovered the phenomena in 1958 during the flight of the Explorer 1 satellite, are two donut-shaped regions of high-energy particles trapped by the Earth’s magnetic field. When first discovered, the belts were thought to remain fairly stable. However, future observations revealed that these structures are not nearly as stable as believed. And even now, the reasons why are a mystery.