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the curse of the killer electrons


From time to time, the Earth experiences a geomagnetic storm. This happens when some of the effects of violent storms on the surface of the Sun are carried to Earth by the solar wind. During geometric storms, scientists have detected extremely energetic electrons whizzing around the Earth at very high speeds. These have been called killer electrons.


On 19th May 1988, 45 million people were left without mobile communications because the Galaxy 4 satellite was knocked out by killer electrons.




Although killer electrons travel at high speeds there is no need to worry. They can't harm us on the Earth's surface as the Earth’s magnetic shield keeps them well away from us at altitudes of 30,000 - 40,000 km. They can, however, cause a lot of damage to satellites and any astronauts travelling through that region.


Here’s a great illustration of a ‘Killer Electron’ courtesy John Currin


During geomagnetic storms we see big waves in the Earth’s magnetic field. Some scientists believe that the reason we see lots of killer electrons at the time of a geomagnetic storm is because lower energy electrons are able to surf in on the big waves.


It is like surfing on the you stand on a surfboard on top of a wave you go faster and faster as you pick up energy from the wave.




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