First close look

Part of the Springer Praxis Books book series (PRAXIS)


On 31 January 1958 America’s first satellite, Explorer 1, was sent into an elliptical orbit ranging out to an altitude of 2,000 kilometres. The Geiger-Müller counter that it carried revealed that electrically charged particles circulate in the Earth’s magnetic field. The instrument’s principal investigator was J.A. Van Allen of the University of Iowa, and this radiation became known as the Van Allen belt. In 1962, as Mariner 2 departed the Earth’s vicinity to make a fly-by of Venus, it found that interplanetary space is pervaded by particles that flow from the Sun as a ‘solar wind’. It was then realised that the radiation within the Earth’s ‘magnetosphere’ originated from this wind, and that auroral displays occurred when dense streams of particles forced their way into the open ‘cusps’ above the magnetic poles. In the 1960s NASA’s Ames Research Center, which is located south of San Francisco, sent a series of extremely successful Pioneers into solar orbit, some slightly inside the Earth’s orbit and some just outside it, carrying suites of ‘particles and fields’ instruments to report the state of the solar wind. One discovery was that the strength of the solar wind draws the Earth’s magnetosphere downstream to a considerable distance in a ‘magnetotail’.


Solar Wind Ring Plane Solar Nebula Asteroid Belt Outer Solar System 
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