Star Trek-like invisible shield found thousands of miles above Earth

November 26, 2014
Scientists have discovered an invisible shield roughly 7,200 miles above Earth. Credit: Andy Kale, University of Alberta

A team led by the University of Colorado Boulder has discovered an invisible shield some 7,200 miles above Earth that blocks so-called "killer electrons," which whip around the planet at near-light speed and have been known to threaten astronauts, fry satellites and degrade space systems during intense solar storms.

The barrier to the particle motion was discovered in the Van Allen radiation belts, two doughnut-shaped rings above Earth that are filled with high-energy electrons and protons, said Distinguished Professor Daniel Baker, director of CU-Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP). Held in place by Earth's magnetic field, the Van Allen radiation belts periodically swell and shrink in response to incoming energy disturbances from the sun.

As the first significant discovery of the space age, the Van Allen radiation belts were detected in 1958 by Professor James Van Allen and his team at the University of Iowa and were found to be comprised of an inner and outer belt extending up to 25,000 miles above Earth's surface. In 2013, Baker—who received his doctorate under Van Allen—led a team that used the twin Van Allen Probes launched by NASA in 2012 to discover a third, transient "storage ring" between the inner and outer Van Allen that seems to come and go with the intensity of space weather.

The latest mystery revolves around an "extremely sharp" boundary at the inner edge of the outer belt at roughly 7,200 miles in altitude that appears to block the ultrafast electrons from breeching the shield and moving deeper towards Earth's atmosphere.

"It's almost like theses electrons are running into a glass wall in space," said Baker, the study's lead author. "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."

A cloud of cold, charged gas around Earth, called the plasmasphere and seen here in purple, interacts with the particles in Earth's radiation belts -- shown in grey-- to create an impenetrable barrier that blocks the fastest electrons from moving in closer to our planet. Credit: NASA/Goddard

A paper on the subject was published in the Nov. 27 issue of Nature.

The team originally thought the highly charged electrons, which are looping around Earth at more than 100,000 miles per second, would slowly drift downward into the upper atmosphere and gradually be wiped out by interactions with air molecules. But the impenetrable barrier seen by the twin Van Allen belt spacecraft stops the electrons before they get that far, said Baker.

Star Trek-like invisible shield found thousands of miles above Earth
This animated gif shows how particles move through Earth’s radiation belts, the large donuts around Earth. The sphere in the middle shows a cloud of colder material called the plasmasphere. New research shows that the plasmasphere helps keep fast electrons from the radiation belts away from Earth. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Scientific Visualization Studio

The group looked at a number of scenarios that could create and maintain such a barrier. The team wondered if it might have to do with Earth's magnetic field lines, which trap and control protons and electrons, bouncing them between Earth's poles like beads on a string. The also looked at whether radio signals from human transmitters on Earth could be scattering the charged electrons at the barrier, preventing their downward motion. Neither explanation held scientific water, Baker said.

"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," said Baker. "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."

Another scenario is that the giant cloud of cold, electrically charged gas called the plasmasphere, which begins about 600 miles above Earth and stretches thousands of miles into the outer Van Allen belt, is scattering the at the boundary with low frequency, electromagnetic waves that create a plasmapheric "hiss," said Baker. The hiss sounds like white noise when played over a speaker, he said.

While Baker said plasmaspheric hiss may play a role in the puzzling space barrier, he believes there is more to the story. "I think the key here is to keep observing the region in exquisite detail, which we can do because of the powerful instruments on the Van Allen probes. If the sun really blasts the Earth's magnetosphere with a coronal mass ejection (CME), I suspect it will breach the shield for a period of time," said Baker, also a faculty member in the astrophysical and planetary sciences department.

"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,'" said John Foster, associate director of MIT's Haystack Observatory and a study co-author.

Explore further: Third radiation belt can wrap around Earth, probes reveal

More information: An impenetrable barrier to ultrarelativistic electrons in the Van Allen radiation belt, Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature13956

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38 comments

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MarkmBha
5 / 5 (9) Nov 26, 2014
Amazing.
cantdrive85
1.4 / 5 (11) Nov 26, 2014
The latest mystery revolves around an "extremely sharp" boundary


More mysteries? Maybe it's as simple as ignorance on the part of the researchers.

"Students using astrophysical textbooks remain essentially ignorant of even the existence of plasma concepts, despite the fact that some of them have been known for half a century. The conclusion is that astrophysics is too important to be left in the hands of astrophysicists who have gotten their main knowledge from these textbooks. Earthbound and space telescope data must be treated by scientists who are familiar with laboratory and magnetospheric physics and circuit theory, and of course with modern plasma theory." Hannes Alfven
Jaeherys
5 / 5 (9) Nov 26, 2014
Who uses textbooks over primary literature?
Bob Osaka
5 / 5 (6) Nov 26, 2014
Is it glazed, jelly-filled, old fashioned or what? Suppose toroid would be misunderstood. Headline could read: "Doughnuts keep us from being deeply fried."
bmeucci
not rated yet Nov 26, 2014
Does anyone know if they were looking at the direction of the polarity of the magnetosphere on each side of the boundary? It would be interesting if it was a boundary where it is flipped..
rufusgwarren
not rated yet Nov 27, 2014
Is there a polarity gradient about the earth, and is the motion parallel to the field. If an H field gradient due to a di/dt then an e field gradient due to the distribution of this current's charge. true?
rufusgwarren
not rated yet Nov 27, 2014
So what kind of boundary conditions keep it there, if not this field, i.e. gravity as a multi-pole force, +/-, therfore small compared to pole to pole coulomb forces. So if every thing is pulled toward the center of the earth, the current causing the magnetic poles would produce a field outward or inward toward the earth. Since we are talking about electron flow, the E field from this current would be repulsive to singularly negative charged particles. Motion due to the net force and initial energy, and the field of the flow. Hence, I wager a toroid for least energy positions, i.e. not striking the earth. QM? Hmmm, wonder if using mass as part of the calculation or using only charge. Oops, need a new physics for only charge and space-time.
alfie_null
4.7 / 5 (14) Nov 27, 2014
The latest mystery revolves around an "extremely sharp" boundary


More mysteries? Maybe it's as simple as ignorance on the part of the researchers.

You, no doubt, are smarter. I guess we can gauge your intelligence by considering how effectively you promote your crackpot beliefs. On a blog to a bunch of laypeople. Kind of pitiful, y'know.
Whydening Gyre
4.4 / 5 (7) Nov 27, 2014
"Spaceship Earth" takes on a more relevant meaning...
Captain Stumpy
4.3 / 5 (12) Nov 27, 2014
Maybe it's as simple as ignorance on the part of the researchers
@cd
perhaps you are confusing the authors use of colorful writing to reality?
Students using astrophysical textbooks remain essentially ignorant...
yep, you are
this crap again?
you've already been proven wrong about this
1- this quote is far too old to be taken literally today
2- things have changed since alfie said this
3- you've never once been able to prove that modern astrophysicists are ignorant of plasma physics, and i've used STUDIES as well as college curriculum proving you are wrong about astrophysicists not knowing plasma physics
http://www.pppl.gov
[url]http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm[/url]
http://arxiv.org/...92v1.pdf
what you have is called an opinion, which is not evidence, nor is it based upon reality, as i have repeatedly proven to you already

perhaps you should try to learn about real physics now that you've been repeatedly proven to be wrong?
[url]http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm[/url]
cantdrive85
1.4 / 5 (9) Nov 27, 2014
Who uses textbooks over primary literature?

Good point, but if you haven't been exposed to relevant physics of plasma processes in your education how could you possibly understand those processes when you find them. It's obvious that this "force field" is most likely an electric field (double layer), this phenomena is unfortunately largely ignored by astrophysicists. There is nary a mention of of electric fields or DL's in the linked paper.
movementiseternal
Nov 27, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
DeliriousNeuron
1 / 5 (8) Nov 27, 2014
Stumpydick. You've been proven wrong countless times with your mindless links. LOL!
Nobody wants you here. Go troll somewhere else.
Your posts don't make sense whatsoever!
Skepticus
1 / 5 (4) Nov 27, 2014
It is entirely possible to make similar shields with strong magnetic fields for spacecrafts with current technology and adequate source of power, such as a nuclear reactor. However, the current ideological political climate prevented the widespread development of compact, space-rated reactors, to protect the exclusivity of nuclear weapons of allies and masters. I hope someone will say f'em all, and start developing them. Then the floodgate will be open. By the time fusions reactors are possible, plenty of experiences of working and designing compact and lightweight nuclear reactors would be there. Then we will go far in space, and also terminate the complete geo-petro-political mess of the Middle East. They can go f'kemselves then.
Protoplasmix
4.5 / 5 (17) Nov 27, 2014
Stumpydick. You've been proven wrong countless times with your mindless links. LOL!
Nobody wants you here. Go troll somewhere else. Your posts don't make sense whatsoever!

You're quite out of line, bud. I'm happy to blast your 'nobody' remark out of the water by saying his efforts are greatly appreciated. His defense of science from crackpots and trolls is tireless and prolific, and his posts reflect credit on the advancement of science and on the community in general. While yours appear to be either a projection of personal fears, or the poster-child for the lamest effort of a fossil-fuel-funded anti-science cointelpro-like campaign I've yet seen.
Vietvet
4.2 / 5 (15) Nov 27, 2014
Stumpydick. You've been proven wrong countless times with your mindless links. LOL!
Nobody wants you here. Go troll somewhere else. Your posts don't make sense whatsoever!

You're quite out of line, bud. I'm happy to blast your 'nobody' remark out of the water by saying his efforts are greatly appreciated. His defense of science from crackpots and trolls is tireless and prolific, and his posts reflect credit on the advancement of science and on the community in general. While yours appear to be either a projection of personal fears, or the poster-child for the lamest effort of a fossil-fuel-funded anti-science cointelpro-like campaign I've yet seen.


Wish I give you more than 5 stars!
Benni
1.4 / 5 (9) Nov 28, 2014
Stumpydick. You've been proven wrong countless times with your mindless links. LOL!
Nobody wants you here. Go troll somewhere else. Your posts don't make sense whatsoever!

You're quite out of line, bud. I'm happy to blast your 'nobody' remark out of the water by saying his efforts are greatly appreciated. His defense of science from crackpots and trolls is tireless and prolific, and his posts reflect credit on the advancement of science and on the community in general. While yours appear to be either a projection of personal fears, or the poster-child for the lamest effort....


Every housewife knows how to copy & paste, he's the king of it. When you ask him how many differential equations in Einstein's GR he can follow, he starts name calling, his favorite is "moron", I guess reflecting his own inability to understand the language of science (math). He calls me a moron because I can do calculus. How's that for "advancement of science"?
Vietvet
3.9 / 5 (11) Nov 28, 2014
@Bennihaha

You may be able to do calculus but that just makes you a one trick pony.
Benni
1.5 / 5 (8) Nov 28, 2014
........and El Stumbos followers have that same common trait.
Uncle Ira
3.9 / 5 (11) Nov 28, 2014
@Bennihaha

You may be able to do calculus but that just makes you a one trick pony.


Why would anybody think he can do that? All I ever saw him do was spell it. Same with the different equations and the semi circular universes and the thermodynamics. Shoot, I can spell them and write them here, and I didn't even go to the nuclear engineer-Skippy school like the Bennie-Skippy didn't either.
KBK
4 / 5 (4) Nov 28, 2014
I asked Geordi and he told me it is obviously a polarized Tetryon field, created by the static balance of forces.
Protoplasmix
5 / 5 (5) Nov 29, 2014
Kudos to Andy Kale for the artwork showing the brick wall, and to Nasa/Goddard/Scientific Visualization Studio for the animated gif. Very nice. But check out the artwork from the scientists and the science—the raw data from a sensor (for 7.2 MeV electrons & greater) depicted in a projection of Van Allen Probe B's orbital tracks onto the geographical equatorial plane. 'Spirograph' writ large, clearly showing the "Sharp Inner Edge" and the area that's nearly devoid of electrons—the "slot region":

Extended Data Figure 5: A color-coded geographical representation of ultrarelativistic electron fluxes.
Captain Stumpy
4.1 / 5 (9) Nov 29, 2014
You're quite out of line, bud. I'm happy to blast your 'nobody' remark out of the water by saying his efforts are greatly appreciated. His defense of science from crackpots and trolls is tireless and prolific, and his posts reflect credit on the advancement of science and on the community in general.
@Protoplasmix
you made me blush... Thank you very much
i sincerely try to make sure real science is noticed and pseudoscience is pointed out

thanks again

your mindless links
@delirious GROUPIE
you can't understand the links to studies? well, how about educating yourself: http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm
sorry i don't have a monosyllabic vocabulary for your inadequacies in comprehension, i am sure you will find plenty of those at cd's eu sites though... that is what it takes to be conned into eu
Captain Stumpy
4.1 / 5 (9) Nov 29, 2014
Every housewife knows how to copy & paste, he's the king of it. When you ask him how many differential equations in Einstein's GR he can follow, he starts name calling, his favorite is "moron", I guess reflecting his own inability to understand the language of science (math). He calls me a moron because I can do calculus
@beniMORON
i have never once called you a moron or stupid because you can do differential equations. you have me mistaken with someone else...

i call you a moron because you give conjecture without evidence and then make claims that are not substantiated by legitimate science
or you like to call people names because "they can't do differential equations" or any other of your tired excuses for NO EVIDENCE
I call you names for picking on Ira who is trying to learn (like me)
and lastly... if i link something that is relevant and refutes someone, like Zephir, then i MUST understand why, don't 'cha think?

benni, you just TROLL
THATS IT
Benni
1.4 / 5 (9) Nov 29, 2014
Every housewife knows how to copy & paste, he's the king of it. When you ask him how many differential equations in Einstein's GR he can follow, he starts name calling, his favorite is "moron", I guess reflecting his own inability to understand the language of science (math). He calls me a moron because I can do calculus

i have never once called you a moron or stupid because you can do differential equations
. ......and Thermodynamics, Electronic circuit design, nuclear physics.

you have me mistaken with someone else

No, just read below, it's such an inexorable habit with your postings....

i call you a moron because.....
See what I mean, you just can't stop yourself.

I call you names for picking on Ira who is trying to learn (like me)
Then why don't you take on a study of Einstein's GR like I've done, then come back & report?

Vietvet
3.8 / 5 (10) Nov 29, 2014
@bennihaha

This quote from @Protoplasmix re Capatian Stumpy bears repeating.

"You're quite out of line, bud. I'm happy to blast your 'nobody' remark out of the water by saying his efforts are greatly appreciated. His defense of science from crackpots and trolls is tireless and prolific, and his posts reflect credit on the advancement of science and on the community in general. While yours appear to be either a projection of personal fears, or the poster-child for the lamest effort of a fossil-fuel-funded anti-science cointelpro-like campaign I've yet seen."

4.7 / 5 (14)

fabb4eyes
not rated yet Nov 29, 2014
This could have to do with Plancks constant, the action of two particles at a distance, and the mysteries of the double slit experiments. Or it could be a Klingon trick, the dirty rats.
Protoplasmix
5 / 5 (6) Nov 30, 2014
well, how about educating yourself

Echoing the Captain's advice and adding a link –

The future of education is arriving daily. Get some. Free online, from the world's best universities: edX.org

Founding members: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University
Contributors: Berkeley; The U of Texas System; Australian Nat'l U; Boston U; Sorbonne U's; Delft U of Tech; U of British Columbia; The U of Queensland, Australia
Charter members: Berklee college of music; Caltech; Columbia U; Cornell; Dartmouth; Davidson; École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne; ETH Zürich; Georgetown; Hong Kong U of Science & Tech; IIT Bombay; Karolinska Institutet; Kyoto U; McGill; Peking U; Rice; Seoul Nat'l U; Technische Universität München; Tsinghua U; Université catholique de Louvain; The U of Chicago; The U of Hong Kong; the U of Tokyo; U of Notre Dame; U of Toronto; U of Washington; Wellesley
cantdrive85
1.5 / 5 (8) Nov 30, 2014
well, how about educating yourself

Echoing the Captain's advice and adding a link –

The future of education is arriving daily. Get some. Free online, from the world's best universities: https://www.edx.org/

Founding members: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University
Contributors: Berkeley; The U of Texas System; Australian Nat'l U; Boston U; Sorbonne U's; Delft U of Tech; U of British Columbia; The U of Queensland, Australia: Caltech;...

You'd think with all that education from the "world's best" universities there wouldn't be all the "mysteries", "puzzling behavior", and "surprising" findings related what are otherwise well understood plasma behavior. "Extremely sharp boundaries" are surprising to "accepted" MHD models of space plasmas, these are predicted occurrences when using the particle and circuit models in use by Plasma Cosmologists. You will unlikely find a course on PC at one of these "best universities in the world".
Protoplasmix
5 / 5 (9) Nov 30, 2014
... these are predicted occurrences when using the particle and circuit models in use by Plasma Cosmologists
Awesome, let's see a link to the paper from the PCs predicting boundaries in the Van Allen belts of 2.8 Earth radii (inner) and 3.5 Earth radii (outer) for 7.2 MeV electrons, and also predicting the symmetry.

There isn't one? Then a link to a paper from the PCs showing how to plug the numbers into your 'particle and circuit models' (ie, showing the physics equations) to predict the boundaries will suffice.

And if there isn't one of those I'm gonna get my double layers in a z-pinch and I hate it when that happens.
Captain Stumpy
3.9 / 5 (7) Nov 30, 2014
Then why don't you take on a study of Einstein's GR like I've done, then come back & report?
@banni-TROLL
personal conjecture without evidence
troll comment
and Thermodynamics, Electronic circuit design, nuclear physics
you've only made this claim
you've never demonstrated this
...read below
and again, i've never once called you a moron because you can do differential equations

you know SQUAT about computers and the internet...
you never support your claims with evidence, science, links, etc
you are simply trolling and baiting, wanting attention in your old age because your life is mediocre at best
why not list your PE number? http://www.nspe.o.../what-pe
you ARE supposed to be a nuclear engineer... log into Sapo's joint (Google it) or Sciforums (the .com one) and PM me your PE cred's

VALIDATE who you are, spanky!
Captain Stumpy
3.7 / 5 (6) Nov 30, 2014
And if there isn't one of those I'm gonna get my double layers in a z-pinch and I hate it when that happens.
@Protoplasmix
BEST
REPLY
EVER!
I wish i could 100star that one! i spit coffee all over my laptop!
ROTFLMFAO
good one!

"best universities in the world".
@cd
you will find that Princeton, MIT, and many more college's have plasma physics labs which are part of the physics program and teach plasma physics to not only engineers, but also to astrophysicists

You have never ONCE been able to prove that this is not true, despite your many claims to the contrary
You seem to think that the world stopped learning when alfvie gave his little speech, but in fact we kept on, and we also now know enough to debunk eu pseudoscience
DeliriousNeuron
2.5 / 5 (8) Nov 30, 2014
Why does Stumpydick call everyone posting a troll, when in fact hes the poster child of trolling? What a dumb ass!
Benni
2 / 5 (8) Nov 30, 2014
........in addition he's every housewife's poster child of Copy & Paste, the closest he's ever gotten to what he thinks is computer science. If he knew any computer science he could have told me months ago how much he knows about Boolean Algebra when I asked him, but he passed on it, totally clueless as to what I was talking about.
Protoplasmix
5 / 5 (6) Nov 30, 2014
Does anyone know if they were looking at the direction of the polarity of the magnetosphere on each side of the boundary?
Without a doubt: "...the instrument suite [on each probe] is unusually comprehensive, able to measure an enormous range of energies, particles, and waves." See Nasa > Mission > Van Allen Probes > Spacecraft & Instruments
HannesAlfven
2.6 / 5 (9) Nov 30, 2014
Re: "It's obvious that this "force field" is most likely an electric field (double layer), this phenomena is unfortunately largely ignored by astrophysicists. There is nary a mention of of electric fields or DL's in the linked paper."

What is particularly bothersome about the failure to categorize double layers as astrophysical objects is that they also generate plenty of radio/microwave noise. That's why Alfven pointed to them as the likely source for the microwaves we see coming at us from all directions.

The fact that astrophysicists have quite obviously failed to make the connection with this recent observation actually validates the EU claim that astrophysicists do not adequately understand plasmas -- for double layers are one of the most fundamental concepts in laboratory plasma physics.

The incessant attempts to model cosmic plasmas as incapable of holding an E-field creates the very mysteries which astrophysicists are then left with solving.
Benni
1.6 / 5 (7) Dec 01, 2014
astrophysicists have quite obviously failed to make the connection with this recent observation actually validates the EU claim that astrophysicists do not adequately understand plasmas


The biggest problem so-called astrophysicists have is they do not understand "energy", hence they hypothesize about an infinitely expanding universe & come up with Dark Energy theories. Few people have the mathematical comprehension that there is no such thing as a "free energy lunch" (perpetual motion).

All energy is derived from the transformation of mass, you know, the "mass/energy equivalence" Einstein derived in 1905 ten years before his GR. So much of the commentary on this website comes from novices who have a fantasy they carry over from their Trekkie days watching old Star Trek TV, that "energy" can be created without "transformation of mass".

Physicists know "mass" is the fuel that is the source of all energy that creates the motion of galaxies in the Universe.
HannesAlfven
3 / 5 (4) Dec 02, 2014
Re: "Physicists know "mass" is the fuel that is the source of all energy that creates the motion of galaxies in the Universe."

I would have to disagree, as mass appears to me a property of matter. I realize that the two are commonly conflated, but I advise against adopting that mistake. The very fact that G is so hard to pin down suggests that in places of the universe which are not so hospitable to life (like our own), we should be wondering what the relationship is there.

I would also advise keeping an open mind on this issue once we get the CONSERT data back from Rosetta. After all, it may return radar data suggesting that 67P is fully or mostly rock. And then we would see direct observational evidence for this distinction between mass and matter, in light of a possible significant excess of electrons.

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