Although researchers don’t yet know exactly what the shield is…
Thousands of miles above Earth, the planet is being constantly attacked by light-speed “killer electrons.” According to NASA, these electrons can damage satellites and endanger astronauts traveling beyond orbit.
But a team led by scientists from the University of Colorado found that high-energy particles seem to just suddenly stop, mid-attack, at about 7,200 miles above Earth’s surface.
“It’s almost like theses electrons are running into a glass wall in space,” lead author Professor Daniel N. Baker said in a press release. “Somewhat like the shields created by force fields on ‘Star Trek’ that were used to repel alien weapons, we are seeing an invisible shield blocking these electrons. It’s an extremely puzzling phenomenon.”
In a study, published in the journal Nature, scientists explain how they found the shield in the Van Allen radiation belts. These belts, discovered in 1958, are two doughnut-shaped rings, packed with electrons and protons, held in place by the Earth’s magnetic field.
Although researchers don’t yet know exactly what the shield is, they’re now speculating that the plasmasphere — a region of dense, cold plasma that surrounds Earth — has something to do with it.
[quote_box_center]“I think the key here is to keep observing the region in exquisite detail, which we can do because of the powerful instruments on the Van Allen probes,” Baker said. “If the sun really blasts the Earth’s magnetosphere with a coronal mass ejection, I suspect it will breach the shield for a period of time.”[/quote_box_center]
And we really don’t want that.