Ask an Astrophysicist
Thu Dec 14, 2006 08:48


NASA . Bean is puzzled about the Van Allen Belts



Tomcat629200 (2 days ago)
the best part of this "report" comes, when Mr. Alan Bean says: "That´s bullshit." and there is no better word to describe what the editors of this stuff made: BULLSHIT

That said... I still can't understand how he wouldn't know about the Van Allen belts.

Fox TV and the Apollo Moon Hoax
(February 13, 2001)

On Thursday, February 15th 2001 (and replayed on March 19), the Fox TV network aired a program called ``Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?'', hosted by X-Files actor Mitch Pileggi. The program was an hour long, and featured interviews with a series of people who believe that NASA faked the Apollo Moon landings in the 1960s and 1970s. The biggest voice in this is Bill Kaysing, who claims to have all sorts of hoax evidence, including pictures taken by the astronauts, engineering details, discussions of physics and even some testimony by astronauts themselves. The program's conclusion was that the whole thing was faked in the Nevada desert (in Area 51, of course!). According to them, NASA did not have the technical capability of going to the Moon, but pressure due to the Cold War with the Soviet Union forced them to fake it.

Sound ridiculous? Of course it does! It is. So let me get this straight right from the start: this program is an hour long piece of junk.

From the very first moment to the very last, the program is loaded with bad thinking, ridiculous suppositions and utterly wrong science. I was able to get a copy of the show in advance, and although I was expecting it to be bad, I was still surprised and how awful it was. I took four pages of notes. I won't subject you to all of that here; it would take hours to write. I'll only go over some of the major points of the show, and explain briefly why they are wrong. In the near future, hopefully by the end of the summer, I will have a much more detailed series of pages taking on each of the points made by the Hoax Believers (whom I will call HBs).

So let's take a look at the ``evidence'' brought out by the show. To make this easier, below is a table with links to the specific arguments.

The Van Allen Belt
I wonder if you could tell me exactly what the VAN ALLEN BELT is and how much radiation does it contain, ie how many rems of radiation are there out there? ...

The Question
(Submitted February 28, 1997)

I wonder if you could tell me exactly what the VAN ALLEN BELT is and how much radiation does it contain, ie how many rems of radiation are there out there? Plus, what protection would organic life need to be protected from this radiation?

The Answer
David Stern, a researcher in another lab here at Goddard, has graciously supplied an answer to your question, given below:

"The radiation belts are regions of high-energy particles, mainly protons and electrons, held captive by the magnetic influence of the Earth. They have two main sources. A small but very intense "inner belt" (some call it "The Van Allen Belt" because it was discovered in 1958 by James Van Allen of the University of Iowa) is trapped within 4000 miles or or so of the Earth's surface. It consists mainly a high-energy protons (10-50 MeV) and is a by-product of the cosmic radiation, a thin drizzle of very fast protons and nuclei which apparently fill all our galaxy.

" In addition there exist electrons and protons (and also oxygen particles from the upper atmosphere) given moderate energies (say 1-100 keV; 1 MeV = 1000 keV) by processes inside the domain of the Earth's magnetic field. Some of these electrons produce the polar aurora ("northern lights") when they hit the upper atmosphere, but many get trapped, and among those, protons and positive particles have most of the energy .

"I looked up a typical satellite passing the radiation belts (elliptic orbit, 200 miles to 20000 miles) and the radiation dosage per year is about 2500 rem, assuming one is shielded by 1 gr/cm-square of aluminum (about 1/8" thick plate) almost all of it while passing the inner belt. But there is no danger. The way the particles move in the magnetic field prevents them from hitting the atmosphere, and even if they are scattered so their orbit does intersect the ground, the atmosphere absorbs them long before they get very far. Even the space station would be safe, because the orbits usually stop above it--any particles dipping deeper down are lost much faster than they can be replenished.

"If all this sounds too technical but you still want to find out-- what ions and magnetic fields and cosmic rays are, etc.--you will find a long detailed exposition (both without math) on the World Wide Web at:

Good luck!

David Stern


Another point of particular interest to us in high-energy astrophysics is the South Atlantic Anomaly. This is a region of very high particle flux about 250 km above the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Brazil and is a result of the fact that the Earth's rotational and magnetic axes are not aligned (see The particle flux is so high in this region that often the detectors on our satellites must be shut off (or at least placed in a "safe" mode) to protect them from the radiation.

Andy Ptak
for Ask an Astrophysicist


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