Space Science & Space Physics Editors' Highlights

A New Angle on the Earth’s Radiation Belts

A new empirical model of energetic electrons from Van Allen Probes data includes pitch angle analysis, revealing insights about radiation belt energization and loss processes.

Source: Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics


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The two satellites of NASA’s Van Allen Probes mission have provided a wealth of data suitable for statistical analysis to build up data-based empirical models of the charged particles near Earth. Zhao et al. [2018] provide such a model of the energetic electrons in the radiation belts, but with a new independent variable compared to existing parameterizations: pitch angle. This is the angle at which the charged particles spiral along the magnetic field line. For reference, high pitch angles (near 90 degrees) means that the particles are confined near the magnetic equatorial plane, while a low pitch angles (near zero) means the particles can spiral farther along the field lines, perhaps even all the way to the Earth’s upper atmosphere (where it would collide and be lost). One of their big findings is that there is a significant day-to-night difference in the pitch angle distribution of the highest-energy electrons. Quantifying this dependence as a function of other independent variables will help the community understand the physical processes at work on these particles.

Citation: Zhao, H., Friedel, R. H. W., Chen, Y., Reeves, G. D., Baker, D. N., Li, X., et al. [2018]. An empirical model of radiation belt electron pitch angle distributions based on Van Allen Probes measurements. Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, 123. https://doi.org/10.1029/2018JA025277

—Mike Liemohn, Editor-in-Chief, JGR: Space Physics

© 2018. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0