Provided by University of Colorado
University of Colorado students working on the Colorado Student Space Weather Experiment, which helped solve a 60-year-old space mystery.
Thanks to a shoebox-sized satellite built by University of Colorado students, a decades-old mystery surrounding the source of some potentially-damaging particles in our planet’s radiation belts has been unraveled.
The mystery electrons in question exist in Earth’s inner radiation belt, but their origins were unclear for the past 60 years, CU said in a news release.
Data from the students’ satellites showed the electrons are created by cosmic rays stemming from explosions of supernovas, said the study’s lead author, Prof. Xinlin Li who teaches in CU’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.
“We are reporting the first direct detection of these energetic electrons near the inner edge of Earth’s radiation belt,” Li said. “We have finally solved a six-decade-long mystery.”
The findings are important because energetic electrons in near-Earth space can damage satellites and threaten the health of space-walking astronauts, Li said. CU has shined a light on these electrons, allowing for a better understanding and ability to predict the arrival of the potentially harmful particles.