Unusual stable trapping of the ultrarelativistic electrons in the Van Allen radiation belts
Radiation in space was the first discovery of the space age. Earth\textquoterights radiation belts consist of energetic particles that are trapped by the geomagnetic field and encircle the planet1. The electron radiation belts usually form a two-zone structure with a stable inner zone and a highly variable outer zone, which forms and disappears owing to wave\textendashparticle interactions on the timescale of a day, and is strongly influenced by the very-low-frequency plasma waves. Recent observations revealed a third radiation zone at ultrarelativistic energies2, with the additional medium narrow belt (long-lived ring) persisting for approximately 4 weeks. This new ring resulted from a combination of electron losses to the interplanetary medium and scattering by electromagnetic ion cyclotron waves to the Earth\textquoterights atmosphere. Here we show that ultrarelativistic electrons can stay trapped in the outer zone and remain unaffected by the very-low-frequency plasma waves for a very long time owing to a lack of scattering into the atmosphere. The absence of scattering is explained as a result of ultrarelativistic particles being too energetic to resonantly interact with waves at low latitudes. This study shows that a different set of physical processes determines the evolution of ultrarelativistic electrons.
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