Thomas R. O'Donnell

Posts Tagged ‘NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’

Roundup: Van Allen belts give electrons a jolt, a super scanner and a flood study dries up

In Uncategorized, University research on August 26, 2013 at 5:00 am
Van Allen belts with graph of electron acceleration

Recent observations by NASA’s twin Van Allen Probes show that a local kick of energy accelerates particles in the radiation belts surrounding Earth. The readings help explain how these particles reach energies of 99 percent the speed of light. Image Credit: G. Reeves/M. Henderson

I was in knee pants when I first heard about the Van Allen radiation belts, the donut-shaped rings of charged particles circling the Earth. In the movie (and later television series), “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” the belts catch fire, threatening the planet with global warming at hyperspeed – an impossible apocalypse.

The belts were new and little explored then, and one of my siblings told me they were named for their discoverer, James Van Allen, a University of Iowa physicist and a born and bred Iowan. In typical chip-on-the-shoulder Iowa fashion (“Hey, we’re more than corn! We have scientists!”), I’ve been proud of that discovery and its name ever since.

Van Allen’s research brought prestige and fame to U of I’s physics department and attracted some top scientists. And almost 60 years after the belts’ discovery, the university’s research still yields new insights.

The latest, published last month, shows the belts act as a potent particle accelerator, pushing electrons to nearly light speed.

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NASA flood study splashes down in Iowa

In Uncategorized, University research on June 11, 2013 at 1:17 am
NPOL radar south of Waterloo, Iowa, under a large anvil cloud with mammatus clouds.

NASA’s NPOL radar in late May, located south of Waterloo, Iowa, under a large anvil cloud with mammatus clouds. Copyright Brenda Dolan, Colorado State University.

If you want to study rainfall and floods to help improve satellite predictions of both, you couldn’t choose a better place this year than Iowa.

But Witold Krajewski and the researchers at the University of Iowa’s Iowa Flood Center didn’t know that last year, when they planned the project with NASA’S Goddard Space Flight Center.

Krajewski, the flood center’s director, was persuading NASA to base its study in Iowa because the state has no mountains and sea coasts, which sometimes make it difficult for radar to distinguish rainfall from other things. “We do have floods,” Krajewski says he told the NASA collaborators. “I wasn’t wishing for a flood, but I was saying this when we were in a drought.”

NASA took a chance, despite 2012’s dry weather, and it’s paid off with a rush of data that’s expected to improve computer forecast models’ ability to predict flooding. The study’s observational phase wraps up this week, after employing some powerful radar and a small army of rain gauges and soil moisture sensors.

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