Everything you thought you knew is wrong

The Van Allen Belts are donut-shaped rings of radioactive particles that encircle the Earth. They can damage satellites and pose a bit of a risk for human astronauts who venture outside our planet's protective magnetic field and into the regions of the belts. Back in high school, you probably learned that there were two of them. But, it turns out, under certain situations, this planet actually has three Van Allen Belts. The story about this at Nature News, written by , is a joy to read. You really get a sense of how totally scientists' minds were blown by this discovery.


  1. As I was saying the other day, there was sort of national obsession with the Van Allen Belts in the 1950s which figured prominently in every kid’s book about space.  There was a real concern that man could not survive the physical and emotional stress of a low earth orbit, and I guess the worry was that the Van Allen Belts would cook an astronaut like a 7-11 microwave burrito. Of course that fit into the post-Hiroshima concerns about Man Tampering In God’s Domain, and the Van Allen Belts would turn anyone into a modern Icarus. .

  2. So if I didn’t think I knew that then I am good to go?

    (I am a Van Allen Belt count agnostic)

  3. The particles are not actually radioactive. Just energetic and electrically charged.

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