Researchers may have found an explanation for the mysterious super-high energy particles that exist in the Earth's upper atmosphere.
The findings looked at ultra-relativistic electrons, which are located in "Earth's near-space environment," the finding could help researchers understand similar systems on alien planets throughout the universe, a University of California-Los Angeles news release reported.
Researchers have taken a serious interest in the Van Allen belts, which are rings of highly charged particles that circle the Earth at a distance of between about 620 and 3,200 miles (1,000 to 50,000 kilometers). Studying the belts is extremely important because they hold "enormous amounts of radiation that can be dangerous or even deadly to space crafts and astronauts.
The particles in the belts respond to factors such as changes in solar activity, but researchers have been yet to find the key instigator of their acceleration.
The two main suspects in the cause of the particles' acceleration were "'inward radial diffusive transport' and "local stochastic acceleration' by very low-frequency plasma waves."
A research team looked at "high-resolution satellite measurements of high-energy electrons" during a geomagnetic storm in the upper atmosphere last year. The team used a data-driven global wave model to numerically model the data.
The researchers found that "scattering by intense, natural very low-frequency radio waves known as "chorus" in the Earth's upper atmosphere is primarily responsible for the observed relativistic electron build-up," the news release reported.
The work, coupled with past studies, helped rule out radial diffusion as the accelerant.
The wave acceleration is believed to be a "universal physical process," meaning it should be consistent throughout the universe. The team expects the phenomenon exists in "Jupiter, Saturn and other magnetized plasma environments in the cosmos ," according to lead author Richard Thorne, a distinguished professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences in the UCLA College of Letters and Science.
The findings were published in the journal Nature.