The electrical current that energetic ions carry around the Earth behaves very differently from what was previously thought. NASA's Van Allen probes have observed a difference in behaviour between high energy protons and their lower energy counterparts. Previous studies concluded that the behaviour was more uniform. The ring current is located between 10,000 and 60,000 km from Earth. It affects the Earth's magnetic field, and the effects are now mostly attributed to the low energy protons.
New findings based on a year’s worth of observations from NASA’s Van Allen Probes have revealed that the ring current — an electrical current carried by energetic ions that encircles our planet — behaves in a much different way than previously understood.
The ring current has long been thought to wax and wane over time, but the new observations show that this is true of only some of the particles, while other particles are present consistently. Using data gathered by the Radiation Belt Storm Probes Ion Composition Experiment, or RBSPICE, on one of the Van Allen Probes, researchers have determined that the high-energy protons in the ring current change in a completely different way from the current’s low-energy protons. Such information can help adjust our understanding and models of the ring current — which is a key part of the space environment around Earth that can affect our satellites.
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