Source of killer electrons discovered | HT Tech

Source of killer electrons discovered

Scientists claim to have discover the source of electrons that can kill astronauts or satellites in space.

| Updated on: Jul 18 2007, 14:15 IST

Scientists claimed to have discovered the source of electrons that they say could kill astronauts or satellites in space.

Killer electrons are found in the outermost of Earth's ring shaped radiation belts. The belts circle the Earth and are bound by the planet's magnetic fields.

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The electrons travel at almost the speed of light and each may be charged with a thousand times more energy than the average dental x-ray, scientists said.

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They pose a danger to humans because of cumulative radiation exposure. They also damage spacecrafts, which makes it unsafe for astronauts to travel to space.

Since they damage satellites, killer electrons can also cause problems to telephone, cell phone, or television picture. Pager service and GPS interruptions also affect millions of people.

Scientists have long pondered where the killer particles come from and how they accumulate in the radiation belts. Some theories suggest that they originate in the sun, which produces similar particles, or are the remnants of cosmic rays from outside our solar system.

But a team at New Mexico's Los Alamos National Laboratory claims to have discovered that the particles actually form much closer to home, reported the online edition of National Geographic News.

Using satellite detectors to probe the outer radiation belt, the team found that killer electrons occur extremely unevenly. Such localized peaks in intensity, the researcher said, could only be caused by electromagnetic waves accelerating electrons to 'killer' status within the radiation belt.

'I think we show conclusively they do not come from further out (in space). They are accelerated in the radiation belt itself,' said Reiner Friedel, co-author of a paper published in the July issue of the journal Nature Physics.

The discovery may aid scientists in ongoing efforts to protect satellites and astronauts from the particles' damaging effects.

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First Published Date: 18 Jul, 14:01 IST