Posts Tagged ‘killer electrons’
source: NASA, via IEEE Spectrum
For years, scientists have known that satellites and astronauts are vulnerable to “space weather,” more specifically to geo-magnetic storms that generate “killer electrons” powerful enough to penetrate shielding, damage spacecraft, and injure spacemen. But no one has been able to explain just how these nefarious particles are produced… so there’s been no trustworthy ability to predict– and avoid– them.
Now, as IEEE Spectrum and the European Space Agency report, scientists affiliated Los Alamos National Labs and a separate team at the ESA have begun to explain the phenomenon. The details are referenced in the cited reports; here suffice it to say that the electrons (originating in the Van Allen Belt) are accelerated– to velocities approaching the speed of light– by a combination of Very Low Frequency and (higher amplitude) Ultra Low Frequency electromagnetic waves, themselves excited by the impact of solar storms on the earth’s protective electromagnetic bubble.
And not a moment too soon: As Philippe Escoubet, an ESA scientist remarks, “These new findings help us to improve the models predicting the radiation environment in which satellites and astronauts operate. With solar activity now ramping up, we expect more of these shocks to impact our magnetosphere over the months and years to come.”
As we re-fit our tin foil helmets, we might recall that it was on this date in 1845 that Stephen Perry patented the rubber band. The milk of the rubber tree had been long used by folks who lived where the trees were native to make shoes, clothes, and “bottles”– which were brought back to England by returning sailors. In 1820, Thomas Hancock sliced up one of the bottles to create elastic garters and “belts.” Perry, who owned a rubber manufacturing company was sufficiently taken with Hancock’s idea to file a patent on the rubber band– the first of which were made from vulcanized rubber. (They are now commonly made of a combination of rubber and latex.)
(It was also on this date in 1950 that Glenn Seaborg and a team of colleagues at UC Berkeley announced a new element, number 98– Californium– a radioactive element the isotopes of which have important medical and industrial uses, as they are powerful point sources of neutrons.)