A team of researchers, including AOS Professor Richard Thorne announced the discovery of a third Van Allen belt. The discovery was made using the recently launched twin RBSP probes (renamed the Van Allen probes).
Previous observations of Earth’s Van Allen belts have long documented two distinct regions of trapped radiation surrounding our planet. The belts, named for their discoverer, James Van Allen, are critical regions for modern society, which is dependent on many space-based technologies. The Van Allen belts are affected by solar storms and space weather and can intensify dramatically and pose dangers to communications and GPS satellites, as well as humans in space.
This new discovery of a separate third belt, reported on February 28 in the journal Science, shows the dynamic and variable nature of the radiation belts and improves our understanding of how they respond to solar activity. The third belt was present for four weeks before a powerful interplanetary shock wave from the sun annihilated it. Professor Richard Thorne is the Theory Lead on the energetic particle team that made the discovery. His research group in the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences Department at UCLA is preparing a second paper explaining how the new belt formed and slowly decayed, and why it was only observed at ultra-relativistic energies above 2 million electron volts.