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Earth's Safe Zone Became Hot Zone During Legendary Solar Storms
December 15, 2004

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Scientist Bios & Print Resolution Images

Dr. Barbara Giles / LWS Geospace Program Scientist, NASA
Introduction: A region that is thought of as a safe zone for satellites and astronauts actually became the location of a fierce radiation surge during last year's record-breaking "Halloween" space storms. Animation shows a CME leaving the Sun and traveling through solar system. Credit: NASA

Image 1
CME travels through the solar system

Dr. Dan Baker / Director of Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, University of Colorado
Image Left: In October, huge bursts of plasma generated powerful electric fields, pushing Earth's outer atmosphere (plasmasphere), into interplanetary space, particularly visible on Oct. 29 and 30. Without the plasmasphere in the safe zone, a new, intense radiation belt formed in the region. Based on observations from the SAMPEX spacecraft. Credit: NASA. Image Right: In this view, the plasmasphere (shown in green) is blown out to the magnetopause (gray barrier), the main point of contact between the solar wind Earth's protective magnetic field lines. Visualization is based on data from the IMAGE spacecraft. Credit: NASA (Print resolution stills)

Images 2 & 3

The safe zone exists between the two radiation belts Van Allen radiation belts

Images 4 & 5

Van Allen radiation belts Van Allen radiation belts

Dr. Jerry Goldstein / Senior Research Scientist, Southwest Research Institute
The plasmasphere consists of plasma that surrounds and encloses the Earth and is about a million times colder than the radiation belts and a million to a billion times more dense. Images 5 & 8 are based on data from the IMAGE and SAMPEX spacecraft. Credit: NASA. Images 6 & 7 are side-by-side views of the actual data and the visualization. Credit: NASA/LASP. Images 9 & 10 show the location of the safe zone as the gap between the inner and outer 'donut' of the Van Allen belts between about 7,000 km (4,350 miles) and about 13,000 km (8,110 miles) above the Earth's surface. Credit: NASA

Images 5 & 6

The plasmapause rotates with the Earth at about four Earth radii. Side by side model and actual observation of plasmasphere

Images 7 & 8

Satellite view of Earth's plasmasphere The plasmasphere, or Earth's outer atmosphere, stretched out into interstellar space

Images 9 & 10

Plasmasphere (green) is blown out to the magnetopause Plasmasphere (green) is blown out to the magnetopause

Dr. Terry Onsager / Researcher, NOAA Space Environment Center
The radiation levels can change by a factor of ten thousand or so over a number of hours. These radiation levels are important for our astronauts in space and for our orbiting satellites.

Images 11 & 12

Van Allen radiation belts Van Allen radiation belts

Additional Image:
CME Magnetic Connection Movie

The Earth's magnetic fields absorb the brunt of solar storms

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