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Publisher

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Abstract

When the first American satellite, Explorer I, was launched into space in 1958 it inadvertently discovered one the most significant features of our local space environment: the Van Allen Radiation Belts. This region contains highly energetic protons and electrons from the sun which become trapped in the Earth’s magnetic field. These particles are extremely hazardous for spacecraft, causing damage to electronics and endangering astronauts on the International Space Station. Certain natural or artificial events, such as solar coronal mass ejections or high-altitude nuclear explosions, can enhance the radiation belts and decrease satellite lifetimes by orders of magnitude. Therefore, there is a strong motivation to develop a means by which to deplete the radiation and protect our assets in space from this threat. We present one promising remediation mechanism based on the interactions between these particles and very-low-frequency electromagnetic waves known as whistlers. One important property of whistler waves is that they can be guided along narrow inhomogeneities of plasma density called ducts. We have analyzed several events of ducted whistlers observed by the Van Allen Probes satellites and reproduce them with numerical simulations based on whistler theory. We demonstrate quantitative agreement between our simulations and the observations, indicating that our model successfully explains the existing satellite observations and can be used to predict the results from future experiments of launching whistler waves into the radiation belts from ground stations and space-based transmitters.

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