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Probes Will Live in Van Allen Belts

The twin Radiation Belt Storm Probes will fly through the Van Allen Belts for two years, measuring charged particles, plasma waves and magnetic fields. John Matson reports

It’s a dirty job, but two NASA spacecraft are ready to do it.

On August 23rd, NASA plans to launch two spacecraft into the radiation belts around Earth. The twin Radiation Belt Storm Probes will investigate high-energy particles held in place by Earth’s magnetic field. Those fast-moving protons and electrons form two bands known as the Van Allen radiation belts, after physicist James Van Allen, who discovered them in 1958.

The two NASA probes will study how the belts formed, and what makes them swell up from time to time. The outer radiation belt in particular can change quickly in response to the sun’s outbursts of charged particles, also known as solar storms.

The Van Allen Belts are a nuisance to some spacecraft, and they could pose a hazard to future manned missions as well. But the Radiation Belt Storm Probes will call those harsh environs home. The spacecraft will fly through the belts for two years, measuring charged particles, plasma waves and magnetic fields in Earth’s vicinity.

NASA hopes that the mission will help illuminate the complex physics of the stormy near-Earth environment. And, perhaps, help future spacecraft weather that storm.

—John Matson

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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