Particle Hurricanes Observed in the Van Allen Belt

Science question answered


Space boffins having a poke around in the Van Allen Radiation Belts—two concentric rings encircling the Earth in which large numbers of high-energy charged particles are dashing around—have confirmed a theory about how the particles are accelerated to ultra-high energies.

Since the Van Allen belts were first discovered, astronomers have been trying to trace the source of the super-acceleration.

Now NASA's twin space probes have beamed back research showing the particles may be supercharged by local acceleration (speeding up local particles rather than those sourced from outside the radiation belt) in much the same way as hurricanes are powered by the evaporation of warm ocean water on Earth.