How Earth’s radiation belt gets its ‘stripes’

The Earth's radiation belts, shown in this illustration, can change shape and intensity. The Earth's rotation and its interaction with surrounding electric and magnetic fields may shape the stripes that appear in the innermost belt, scientists suggest.


Earth’s spin may be giving the planet’s inner radiation belt zebralike stripes.

Scientists thought interactions between particles from the sun and the belt would cause these types of patterns. But new observations show that the inner belt has organized layers of electrons even when the sun spews relatively few particles in the planet’s direction. Simulations also show that Earth’s rotation can influence the magnetic and electric fields that interact with the electrons in the belt and cause the stripes, scientists report March 19 in Nature.

The result may provide clues about what is happening in the radiation belts of Jupiter, Neptune and Uranus.

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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