Newly released research has identified the existence of a giant cosmic accelerator above the Earth--a natural space "synchrotron accelerator" has scales of hundreds of thousands of kilometers, dwarfing even the largest man-made similar accelerators such as the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, which has a circumference of only 27 kilometres.
By analyzing data from NASA's Van Allen probes, University of Alberta physicist Ian Mann, together with his colleagues at NASA and other institutes, have been able to measure and identify the "smoking gun" of a planetary scale process that accelerates particles to speeds close to the speed of light within the Van Allen radiation belt.
Mann says this particle acceleration—deriving energy from solar flares or eruptions and carried through space on a solar wind—exists in the region of space dominated by the Earth's magnetic field, where satellites fly, known as the magnetosphere. The discovery is a jumping-off point for understanding space storms and determining how to protect man-made systems—on Earth and in space—from potential damage from space storms and severe space weather.
"The puzzle ever since their discovery has been how do the particles get accelerated up to nearly the speed of light?" said Mann.
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