Calling the discovery a “lucky one” and “entirely unexpected”, NASA planetary scientists have announced their discovery of an ephemeral (transient) third ring of radiation surrounding our planet. The new radiation band is actually a torus-shaped ring, and was detected by a pair of space probes — the Van Allen probes (named after the astronomer that first discovered the radiation belts) — carrying an instrument called the Relativistic Electron Proton Telescope (REPT).
Following a request by planetary scientist Daniel Baker to activate the instrument earlier than scheduled (to compare its data with the SAMPEX probe’s data), the telescope almost immediately began detecting high energy particles trapped in the two known Van Allen belts.
However, what caught the scientists by surprise was that, over the course of several days, those particles began to settle into a never before seen configuration: a third, high-energy band embedded within the outermost Van Allen belt which is located about 17,000 to 20,000 km (about 12,000 to 14,000 miles) above the Earth’s surface...
...But a second surprise was awaiting the scientists: on October 1, the mysterious third belt vanished — “virtually annihilated” itself — believed due to a powerful shock wave caused by the solar wind.
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