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NASA's Van Allen Probes Reveal Previously Undetected Radiation Belt Around Earth
02.28.13
 

Multimedia Files in Support of the Radiation Belt News Conference


Artist's rendition of RBSP in orbit. › View Larger
A graphic depicting the twin Van Allen Probes in orbit within Earth's magnetic field. Credit: JHU/APL
The Van Allen Probes, two nearly identical spacecraft, launched in August 2012 and with only six months in operation, they may well be rewriting science textbooks. The probes study the Van Allen belts, gigantic radiation belts surrounding Earth, which can swell dramatically in response to incoming energy from the sun, engulfing satellites and spacecraft and creating potential threats to manned space flight.

James Van Allen discovered the radiation belts during the 1958 launch of the first successful U.S. satellite. Subsequent missions have observed parts of the belts, but what causes the dynamic variation in the region has remained something of a mystery.
› Link to Media Advisory
› Link to Press Release
› Link to High Resolution Media
› Link to Feature Story

Speakers/Presenters

  • Mona Kessel, Van Allen Probes program scientist, NASA HQ, Washington
  • Dan Baket, director, Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, University of Colorado at Boulder
  • Nicola Fox, Van Allen Probes deputy project scientist, Johns Hopkins University/Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md.
  • Joe Kunches, space scientist, NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center, Boulder Co.




Visual: 1
Left: William Pickering, James Van Allen, Werner Von Braun holding up a model of Explorer 1 after its successful launch in 1958. Credit: NASA. › View Visual 1 larger


Left: Pictured from left to right: William Pickering, James Van Allen, Werner Von Braun holding up a model of Explorer 1 after its successful launch in 1958. Credit: NASA. Right: Van Allen and the discovery of the radiation belts, featured on the cover of Time magazine on May 4, 1959. Credit: Time.
 

Visual: 2
A cutaway model of the radiation belts with the 2 Van Allen Probes satellites flying through them. › View Visual 2 larger


A cutaway model of the radiation belts with the 2 RBSP satellites flying through them. The radiation belts are two donut-shaped regions encircling Earth, where high-energy particles, mostly electrons and ions, are trapped by Earth’s magnetic field. This radiation is a kind of “weather” in space, analogous to weather on Earth, and can affect the performance and reliability of our technologies, and pose a threat to astronauts and spacecraft.

The inner belt extends from about 1000 to 8000 miles above Earth’s equator. The outer belt extends from about 12,000 to 25,000 miles. This graphic also shows other satellites near the region of trapped radiation. Credit: NASA
 

Visual: 3
NASA's Living With a Star (LWS) program is a space-weather focused and applications driven research program. › View Visual 3 larger


NASA's Living With a Star (LWS) program is a space-weather focused and applications driven research program. Its goal is to develop the scientific understanding necessary to effectively address those aspects of the connected sun–Earth system that directly affect life and society. The program is implemented by a series of inter-related science missions, space environment testbeds, and a targeted theory, modeling, and data analysis program. The Van Allen Probes are the second mission in the LWS program. Credit: NASA
 

Visual: 4

Download high resolution video 4
This two part movie shows an Aug. 31 coronal mass ejection (CME) from the sun , the same event that caused depletion and refilling of the radiation belts just after the Relativistic Electron-Proton Telescope (REPT) instruments on the Van Allen Probes were turned on. The first movie shows the CME as captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO); the second shows several views of the same CME from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). Credit: NASA
 

Visual: 5
Energetic electron data graph from the REPT instrument aboard the Van Allen Probes › View visual 5 larger
› View unlabeled version


This graph shows energetic electron data gathered by the Relativistic Electron-Proton Telescope (REPT) instruments, on the twin Van Allen Probes satellites in eccentric orbits around the Earth, from Sept. 1, 2012 to Oct. 4, 2012 (horizontal axis). It shows three discrete energy channels (measured in megaelectron volts, or MeV). The third belt region (in yellow) and second slot (in green) are highlighted, and exist up until a coronal mass ejection (CME) destroys them on Oct. 1. The vertical axis in each is L*, effectively the distance in Earth radii at which a magnetic field line crosses the magnetic equatorial plane. Credit: LASP
 

Visual: 6

Download high resolution video 6
One of the two Relativistic Electron-Proton Telescope (REPT) instruments for the Van Allen Probes is shown prior to and then during integration into the spacecraft in 2012. Each Van Allen Probe carries an identical suite of five instruments; REPT is part of the Energetic Particle, Composition, and Thermal Plasma Suite (ECT) aboard the Van Allen Probes. Credit: JHUAPL
 

Visual: 7
This long-term plot (approximately 12 years) from NASA’s Solar Anomalous and Magnetospheric Particle Explorer (SAMPEX) spacecraft shows the established two-belt structure of the Van Allen radiation belts above the Earth. The L value is distance above the Earth. › View visual 7 larger


This long-term plot (approximately 12 years) from NASA’s Solar Anomalous and Magnetospheric Particle Explorer (SAMPEX) spacecraft shows the established two-belt structure of the Van Allen radiation belts above the Earth. The L value is distance above the Earth. New, more advanced instrumentation on the Van Allen Probes has revealed a third belt. Credit: NASA
 

Visual: 8

Download high resolution video 8
This animation shows meridional (from north-south) plane projections of the REPT-A and REPT-B electron flux values. The animation first shows the expected two-belt Van Allen zone structure; from Sept. 3 through Sept. 6 only an intense belt of electrons remains and the inner zone and traditional slot region have not changed; next, the third ‘storage ring’ belt feature persists while a new slot region is seen and a completely new outer zone population has formed. Then, around Oct. 1, the storage ring feature remains while the outer zone decays away. Credit: LASP
 

Visual: 9

Download high resolution video 9
This visualization, created using actual data from the Relativistic Electron-Proton Telescopes (REPT) on NASA’s Van Allen Probes, clearly shows the emergence of new third belt and second slot regions. The new belt is seen as the middle orange and red arc of the three seen on each side of the Earth. The twin Van Allen Probes launched on Aug. 30 2012. Credit: JHU/APL, from REPT data/LASP
 

Visual: 10
Radiation regions like the belts are found throughout our solar system and the universe. Here are four objects with radiation regions: The sun, Earth, Jupiter, and the Crab Nebula. › View visual 10 larger


Radiation regions like the belts are found throughout our solar system and the universe. We are fortunate that we have this region of interest just a few thousand kilometers above the planet – it is like having our very own particle accelerator in the backyard. Here are four objects with radiation regions: The sun, Earth, Jupiter, and the Crab Nebula. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL
 

Visual: 11

Download high resolution video 11
This Sept. 28 coronal mass ejection (CME) from the sun, captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), is the event which caused the near total annihilation of the new radiation belt and slot region on Oct. 1. Credit: NASA
 

Visual: 12

Download high resolution video 12
This movie shows NASA’s Earth-orbiting heliophysics fleet as of 2013, from near Earth orbit out to the orbit of the moon. These missions study the thermosphere, ionosphere, and mesosphere; geospace and the magnetosphere; the heliosphere; and take solar observations and imagery. The Van Allen Probes (marked here as RBSP-A and RBSP-B) are in a highly elliptical orbit, shown in blue, around the Earth. Working as a team, these spacecraft provide the most comprehensive picture ever provided of how our sun interacts with our world. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio
 

Visual: 13

Download high resolution video 13
The Forecast Office of NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center is the nation's official source of alerts, warnings, and watches. The office, staffed 24/7, is always vigilant for solar activity that can affect critical infrastructure. Credit: NOAA.
 

Visual: 14
Graph showing increased space weather prediction center service subscription growth since 2005, with overlay of solar cycle 24 sunspots. › View visual 14 larger


The Space Weather Prediction Center has offered an email subscription service to customers both nationally and internationally since 2005. Now numbering over 32,000 subscribers, the satellite community accounts for about 9,500. Credit: NOAA.
 

Visual: 15
Satellite industry revenues globally have grown at about nine percent on average since 2006. In 2011, the last year for which data are available, the revenue was more than $177B (USD). › View visual 15 larger


Satellite industry revenues globally have grown at about nine percent on average since 2006. In 2011, the last year for which data are available, the revenue was more than $177B (USD). Credit: Satellite Industry Association.

 

Visual: 16
Satellite anomalies of various types are the result of high levels of charged particles. The Van Allen Probes offer unique measurements of these populations for the benefit of satellite builders and operators. › View visual 16 larger


Satellite anomalies of various types are the result of high levels of charged particles. The Van Allen Probes offer unique measurements of these populations for the benefit of satellite builders and operators. Credit: JHUAPL




All above media is available in high resolution at http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/vis/a010000/a011200/a011212/