"Even 55 years after their discovery, Earth's radiation belts still are capable of surprising us," said Nicky Fox, Van Allen Probes deputy project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. "We thought we knew the radiation belts, but we don't."
Back in the 1950s when the radiation belts were discovered, they had little effect on ordinary people. Today the radiation belts are crucial to our high-tech society. Hundreds of satellites used for everything from weather prediction to GPS to television routinely skim the belts, subjecting themselves to energetic particles that can damage solar panels and short-circuit sensitive electronics. During geomagnetic storms when the belts are swollen by solar activity, whole fleets of satellites can be engulfed, imperiling the technological underpinnings of daily life on the planet below. The Van Allen Probes directly address these down-to-Earth problems.
Read the whole story at: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2013/28feb_thirdbelt/