New Insights From Long-Term Measurements of Inner Belt Protons (10s of MeV) by SAMPEX, POES, Van Allen Probes, and Simulation Results
The Solar, Anomalous, and Magnetospheric Particle Explorer (SAMPEX) mission provided long-term measurements of 10s of megaelectron volt (MeV) inner belt (L < 2) protons (1992–2009) as did the Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite-18 (POES-18, 2005 to present). These long-term measurements at low-Earth orbit (LEO) showed clear solar cycle variations which anticorrelate with sunspot number. However, the magnitude of the variation is much greater than the solar cycle variation of galactic cosmic rays (>GeV) that are regarded as a source of these trapped protons. Furthermore, the proton fluxes and their variations sensitively depend on the altitude above the South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA) region. With respect to protons (>36 MeV) mirroring near the magnetic equator, both POES measurements and simulations show no obvious solar cycle variations at L > 1.2. This is also confirmed by recent measurements from the Van Allen Probes (2012–2019), but there are clear solar cycle variations and a strong spatial gradient of the proton flux below L = 1.2. A direct comparison between measurements and simulations leads to the conclusion that energy loss of trapped protons due to collisions with free and bound electrons in the ionosphere and atmosphere is the dominant mechanism for the strong spatial gradient and solar cycle variation of the inner belt protons. This fact is also key of importance for spacecraft and instrument design and operation in near-Earth space.
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Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
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