A radiation belt is a layer of energetic charged particles that is held in place by the planet’s magnetic field. James Van Allen discovered two such belts around Earth in 1958. These two giant belts of radiation surround Earth. The inner belt is dominated by electrons and the outer one by protons. Image Credit: NASA

A team of scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder has discovered a force-field-like-barrier that surrounds Earth. This field appears to help protect astronauts against so-called killer electrons.

It is found within the so-called Van Allen Belt, about 11 500 kilometers above and around the Earth, at the inner edge of the outer Van Allen Belt.

The researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder believes that the barrier repels electrons that would otherwise hurt astronauts, satellites, and other space systems.

“It’s almost like theses electrons are running into a glass wall in space,” said Daniel Baker, the study’s lead author. “Somewhat like the shields created by force fields on Star Trek that were used to repel alien weapons, we are seeing an invisible shield blocking these electrons. It’s an extremely puzzling phenomenon,” he adds.

The researcher’s reason that a possible explanation could be that the field emerges from the planet’s plasmasphere. Generating a white noise that is caused by low-frequency electromagnetic waves, and those waves could be scattering the electrons, which travel at speeds of 160,000 kilometers per second (100,000 miles per second).

But Baker believes that’s not the only reason for the “force field” effect, future research will probably tell. Baker and his fellow scientists have been using data collected by the two NASA Van Allen Probes for their research and the study has been published in Nature.

NASA: Van Allen Probes
An impenetrable barrier to ultrarelativistic electrons in the Van Allen radiation belts