Correcting an Old Space-Physics Error for Safer Satellites

Home / Articles / External / Government

graphic of the Van Allen radiation belts
The Van Allen radiation belts provide a natural analogue to artificial radiation belts that could occur after a high-altitude nuclear explosion. In this image, the red lines circling Earth are an artificial belt of high intensity and the yellow regions are the natural belts; LEO/MEO/GEO refer to low-Earth orbit, medium-Earth orbit and geostationary-Earth orbit (source: Los Alamos National Laboratory).

March 11, 2024 | Originally published by Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) on March 4, 2024

Correcting 50-year-old errors in the math used to understand how electromagnetic waves scatter electrons trapped in Earth’s magnetic fields will lead to better protection for technology in space.

“The discovery of these errors will help scientists improve their models of artificial radiation belts produced by high-altitude nuclear explosions and how an event like that would impact our space technology,” said Greg Cunningham, a space scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. “This allows us to make better predictions of what that threat could be and the efficacy of radiation belt remediation strategies.”

Focus Areas