Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have solved the mystery behind vanishing electrons on Earth. The scientists conducted an experiment which suggested solar flares were the major reason behind the mystery.
During the experiment, the researchers installed three networks of orbiting spacecrafts, positioned at different distances from Earth to catch escaping electrons in the act. The data shows that a majority of the electrons were stripped away from the radiation belt by solar wind particles, when the solar flare reached Earth.
According to the researchers, when flares erupt on the Sun's atmosphere, parts of the magnetized outer layers of the Sun's atmosphere crash onto Earth's magnetic field, thereby triggering geomagnetic storms that are capable of damaging satellites and affecting electrons present on Earth.
The fact that these electrons were missing was discovered back in the early 1960s. Initial hypothesis suggested they were lost to the Earth's atmosphere, while others said they were not permanently lost merely drained of energy (temporarily) so they appeared absent. The mystery has now been solved.
"During the onset of a geomagnetic storm, nearly all the electrons trapped within the radiation belt vanish, only to come back with a vengeance a few hours later," said Vassilis Angelopoulos, a Professor at the UCLA, "It's a puzzling effect."
"This is an important milestone in understanding Earth's space environment," said Drew Turner, an Assistant Researcher at UCLA, "We are one step closer towards understanding and predicting space weather phenomena."