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Invisible Shield Around Earth Protects Against 'Killer Electrons'

By    |   Tuesday, 02 Dec 2014 02:07 PM

An invisible shield is wrapping around Earth and protecting satellites, astronauts and spacecraft from being punctured by "killer electrons," microscopic deadly energy bullets which travel nearly at the speed of light, Fox News reports.

Researchers at the University of Colorado-Boulder recently discovered the protective array of shields, located in the Van Allen radiation belts which gird the earth, forming a barrier to the electrons which, otherwise, could annihilate Earth-launched space stations.

Daniel Baker, director of CU-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), commented in a statement from the university, "It’s almost like theses electrons are running into a glass wall in space. Somewhat like the shields created by force fields on 'Star Trek' that were used to repel alien weapons, we are seeing an invisible shield blocking these electrons.

"It’s an extremely puzzling phenomenon."

The discovery could mean big things for the prediction and understanding of "space weather," according to researcher Yue Chen, providing knowledge which could be used by airlines and satellite and telecommunications operators frustrated by the way storms in the Van Allen belts can disrupt satellites and communications.

"Our results are crucial for the development of a predictive model of space weather," Chen told Spectrum, and with that knowledge, "actions can be taken to protect satellites."

The protective belt lies 7,200 miles above Earth inside the Van Allen belts, which were discovered by James Van Allen of the University of Iowa in 1958 and consist of two wraparound belts of high-energy protons and electrons which encircle Earth and are held in place by Earth's gravitational field. Baker, in 2012, using Van Allen probes launched by NASA, discovered yet a third belt in between the Van Allen belts.

The outer belt contains an "extremely sharp" boundary at its edge which appears to keep the "killer electrons" from passing through and striking Earth, Spectrum reports.

The NASA probes gave scientists new tools with which to study the phenomenon, John Foster, study co-author and associate director of the MIT Haystack Observatory, said in the CU-Boulder release.

"It’s like looking at the phenomenon with new eyes, with a new set of instrumentation, which give us the detail to say, ‘Yes, there is this hard, fast boundary.'"

The team, in a study published in Nature's November issue, states that they have proven that the "killer electrons" arise from low-frequency electromagnetic waves which accelerate Van Allen electrons to 100,000 miles per second, Spectrum reports.

"Nature abhors strong gradients and generally finds ways to smooth them out, so we would expect some of the relativistic electrons to move inward and some outward," Baker told Spectrum.

"It’s not obvious how the slow, gradual processes that should be involved in motion of these particles can conspire to create such a sharp, persistent boundary at this location in space."

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An invisible shield is wrapping around Earth and protecting satellites, astronauts and spacecraft from being punctured by "killer electrons," microscopic deadly energy bullets which travel nearly at the speed of light, Fox News reports.
invisible shield, Earth, killer electrons
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2014-07-02
Tuesday, 02 Dec 2014 02:07 PM
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