Wave-particle interaction effects in the Van Allen belts

Earth Planets Space. 2021;73(1):189. doi: 10.1186/s40623-021-01508-y. Epub 2021 Oct 19.


Discovering such structures as the third radiation belt (or "storage ring") has been a major observational achievement of the NASA Radiation Belt Storm Probes program (renamed the "Van Allen Probes" mission in November 2012). A goal of that program was to understand more thoroughly how high-energy electrons are accelerated deep inside the radiation belts-and ultimately lost-due to various wave-particle interactions. Van Allen Probes studies have demonstrated that electrons ranging up to 10 megaelectron volts (MeV) or more can be produced over broad regions of the outer Van Allen zone on timescales as short as a few minutes. The key to such rapid acceleration is the interaction of "seed" populations of ~ 10-200 keV electrons (and subsequently higher energies) with electromagnetic waves in the lower band (whistler-mode) chorus frequency range. Van Allen Probes data show that "source" electrons (in a typical energy range of one to a few tens of keV energy) produced by magnetospheric substorms play a crucial role in feeding free energy into the chorus waves in the outer zone. These chorus waves then, in turn, rapidly heat and accelerate the tens to hundreds of keV seed electrons injected by substorms to much higher energies. Hence, we often see that geomagnetic activity driven by strong solar storms (coronal mass ejections, or CMEs) commonly leads to ultra-relativistic electron production through the intermediary step of waves produced during intense magnetospheric substorms. More generally, wave-particle interactions are of fundamental importance over a broad range of energies and in virtually all regions of the magnetosphere. We provide a summary of many of the wave modes and particle interactions that have been studied in recent times.

Keywords: Acceleration; Energetic particles; Plasma waves; Radiation belts.