Geomagnetic storms could alter near-Earth radiation environment



Potentially hazardous space weather could affect satellites traversing the inner radiation zone, closer to Earth than previously thought, a new study shows. The Earth's radiation belts have a two-layer structure, and it had been thought that most geomagnetic storms, which are triggered by solar activity, affected only the outer belt. However, simulations by Shprits et al. show that during a very large geomagnetic storm, electrons could actually be accelerated in the inner radiation belt layer. Changes in the near-Earth radiation environment could then persist for several years after a large geomagnetic storm. High-energy electrons can damage satellites, and the altered radiation environment near Earth could significantly reduce the lifetime of satellites in that zone. The authors suggest that a large geomagnetic storm that reached the inner radiation belt could have potentially devastating economic impacts. (Space Weather, doi:10.1029/2011SW000662, 2011)