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Van Allen Belt

  • Date Submitted: 02/26/2012 05:04 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 44 
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The Van Allen radiation belt is a torus of energetic charged particles (plasma) around Earth, which is held in place by Earth's magnetic field. It is believed that most of the particles that form the belts come from solar wind, and other particles by cosmic rays. It is named after its discoverer, James Van Allen, and is located in the inner region of the Earth's magnetosphere. It is split into two distinct belts, with energetic electrons forming the outer belt and a combination of protons and electrons forming the inner belts. In addition, the radiation belts contain lesser amounts of other nuclei, such as alpha particles. The belts pose a hazard to satellites, which must protect their sensitive components with adequate shielding if their orbit spends significant time in the radiation belts.

Van Allen radiation belts do exist on other planets in the solar system, whenever a planet or moon has a magnetic field that is powerful enough to sustain a radiation belt. However, many of these radiation belts have been poorly mapped. The Voyager Program (namely Voyager 2) only nominally confirmed the existence of similar belts on Uranus and Neptune.


Simulated Van Allen Belts generated by a plasma thruster in tank #5 Electric Propulsion Laboratory at the then-called Lewis Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio.
It is generally understood that the inner and outer Van Allen belts result from different processes. The inner belt, consisting mainly of energetic protons, is the product of the decay of so-called "albedo" neutrons which are themselves the result of cosmic ray collisions in the upper atmosphere. The outer belt consists mainly of electrons. They are injected from the geomagnetic tail following geomagnetic storms, and are subsequently energized though wave-particle interactions.
In the inner belt, particles are trapped in the Earth's nonlinear magnetic field. Particles gyrate and move along field lines radiating energy in the form of gamma rays. As particles...


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