Shields up: a remarkable, science-fiction-like shield that blocks electrons from damaging Earth has been discovered by a team of scientists spearheaded by the University of Colorado Boulder.
The shield seemed to have a fairly cohesive and “extremely sharp” edge that stops electrons in its tracks – a far cry from the original hypothesis surrounding the interaction of electrons emitted from the radiation belts.Daniel Baker
The electron shield exists around 7,200 miles above the planet and protects astronauts and space electronics from being bombarded by the particles, according to Daniel Baker, director of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. Dr. Baker says that the electron barrier exists in the Van Allen belts, a pair of donut-shaped belts that ring the Earth teeming with protons and electrons. The Earth’s magnetic field holds the belts in place, but the scientist says that the electrons in these belts – which travel at nearly the speed of light – are being blocked by some invisible force that reminded him of the kind of shields used in television series like Star Trek to stop alien energy weapons from vaporizing starships.
The team from CU-Boulder had assumed that electrons making it into the upper atmosphere of the planet would be dispersed by air molecules, but it looks like these particles don’t even get that far. The boundary was found to be right at the inner edge of the outer Van Allen belt. The shield seemed to have a fairly cohesive and “extremely sharp” edge that stops electrons in its tracks – a far cry from the original hypothesis surrounding the interaction of electrons emitted from the radiation belts.
This isn’t the first new revelation regarding the Van Allen belts that has been discovered recently. One of the other most high-profile discoveries was made in 2012, when a pair of NASA space probes discovered that alterations within the belts occur at a much more rapid pace than originally suspected. Particles within the belts were found to undergo swift spacial, time and energy changes, according to NASA’s analysis. Additionally, a team led by Dr. Baker discovered in 2013 that there was a third ring, one that comes and goes depending on space weather, that exists between the first and second belts. This transient belt was thought to be a “containment” belt by Dr. Baker and his team at the time of its discovery.
This archive content was originally published November 26, 2014 (www.betawired.com)