Streaks in aurora found to map features in earth's radiation environment

Streaks in aurora found to map features in earth's radiation environment
Illustration shows the white-light observations of the fine structure in the aurora superimposed over Alaska. The dots signifying electrons are color coded to show their origins, with red dots indicating electrons from the radiation belts and blue from further out. Credit: NASA/Google Earth/Nithin Sivadas

A special kind of streaked aurora has been found to track disturbances in near-Earth space from the ground. Known as structured diffuse aurora, it was recently discovered, with the help of NASA spacecraft and instruments, that these faint lights in the night sky can map the edges of the Van Allen radiation belts—hazardous concentric bands of charged particles encircling Earth.

When the Van Allen belts undulate in shape and size—which they do in response to incoming radiation from the Sun as well as changes from Earth below—they can envelop satellites in unexpected radiation. The new discovery will help us better track the edges of the belts—and the more we know about how the belts are changing, the more we can mitigate such effects.

  • Streaks in aurora found to map features in earth's radiation environment
    Schematic of the Van Allen belts' structure, shows the region of the structured diffuse aurora and the outer edge of the Van Allen belts that it maps. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/ Historic image of Van Allen Belts courtesy of NASA's Langley Research Center/ Nithin Sivadas
  • Streaks in aurora found to map features in earth's radiation environment
    An unexpected blob, circled in green, seen in radar data from Poker Flat sparked the research leading to the discovery of the structured diffuse aurora as maps of the edge of the outer Van Allen belt. Credit: NASA/Nithin Sivadas


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Citation: Streaks in aurora found to map features in earth's radiation environment (2019, August 27) retrieved 17 January 2020 from https://phys.org/news/2019-08-streaks-aurora-features-earth-environment.html
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