Big Questions for Van Allen Probes
Modern society depends heavily on a variety of technologies that are susceptible to the extremes of space weather — severe disturbances of the upper atmosphere and of the near-Earth space environment that are driven by the magnetic activity of the Sun. Strong electrical currents driven in the Earth’s surface during auroral events can disrupt and damage modern electric power grids and may contribute to the corrosion of oil and gas pipelines.
Our planet is immersed in this seemingly invisible yet exotic and inherently dangerous environment. Above the protective cocoon of Earth’s lower atmosphere is a plasma soup composed of electrified and magnetized matter entwined with penetrating radiation and energetic particles.