Scientists have discovered something truly remarkable above the Earth's atmosphere. An invisible shield is located approximately 7,200 miles above Earth that scientists are likening to "force fields on Star Trek."
According to Front Line Desk, the shield was discovered in the Van Allen radiation belts, two doughnut-shaped rings above Earth that are filled with high-energy electrons and protons. Held in place by Earth's magnetic field, the Van Allen radiation belts swell and shrink in response to incoming energy disturbances from the sun. The Van Allen radiation belts were first discovered back in 1958. However, scientists only discovered two belts, an inner and outer belt extending up to 25,000 miles above Earth's surface.
However, last year, Professor Daniel Baker from the University of Colorado Boulder and his team used the twin Van Allen Probes launched in 2012 to discover a third, transient 'storage ring.' According to their research, the third belt is located between the previously known inner and outer Van Allen radiation belts. This belt is different in that it seems to come and go as space weather changes.
The purpose of the ring was quite clear to the researchers -- the ring is used to block killer electrons from entering deeper into the Earth's atmosphere. These electrons can be extremely devastating at their near-light speed and have been known to threaten astronauts, fry satellites and damage space systems.
Beta Wired notes that Baker likened the invisible shield to Star Trek force fields. The Earth's magnetic field holds the belts in place, but the scientist says that the electrons in these belts -- which travel at nearly the speed of light -- are being blocked by some invisible force that reminded him of the kind of shields used in television series like Star Trek to stop alien energy weapons from vaporizing starships. However, in the case of Earth, the invisible shield is being used to stop killer electrons from entering the atmosphere.
Prior to the invisible shield discovery, scientists assumed that electrons making it into the upper atmosphere of the planet would be dispersed by air molecules, but it looks like these particles don't even get that far thanks to Earth's invisible electron shield.
Now that the scientists know the invisible shield exists, they are trying to determine how it was formed and exactly how it works.
"It's almost like these electrons are running into a glass wall in space. It's an extremely puzzling phenomenon."[Image Credit: NASA]