Earth’s radiation belts more complicated than thought

The Earth is circled by belts of electrons and ions that have been the subject of study for decades. Now, a new study casts light on details of these radiation belts that eluded scientists.

Since the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts in 1958, space scientists have believed these belts encircling the Earth consist of two doughnut-shaped rings of highly charged particles — an inner ring of high-energy electrons and energetic positive ions and an outer ring of high-energy electrons.

In February of this year, a team of scientists reported the surprising discovery of a previously unknown third radiation ring — a narrow one that briefly appeared between the inner and outer rings in September 2012 and persisted for a month.

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