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With Explore the Planets, investigate the planets, their moons, and understand the processes that shape them. By G. Jeffrey Taylor, Ph.D. See our DVD collection.
This animation shows how particles from the Sun are diverted by the Earth's magnetic field.
Movie provided courtesy of Professor Patricia Reiff, Rice University Connections Program

How Does the Earth's Magnetic Field Protect Us From Space Radiation?

Dangerous particles don't hit the Earth's surface because they are forced by the magnetic field to move around the Earth. Particles do enter at the funnels over the poles or they gain entry far downstream from the Earth. The particles that enter downstream or at the magnetotail cause the auroral lights.

Other higher energy particle radiation that could endanger life on Earth is forced to drift around the Earth within two large donut-shaped regions called the radiation belts. Invisible magnetic fields are the reason that particle radiation moves in this way. Click here for basic facts about particle motions in the Earth's magnetic field.

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Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

Radiation Belts

The Earth's radiation belts are just one part of the system called the magnetosphere. The radiation belts of the Earth are made up of electrons, protons and heavier atomic ions. These particles get trapped...more

Basic Facts About the Effects of Magnetic Fields on Charged Particles

Magnetic fields can cause particles to move in these three ways: Spiral Motion Bounce Motion Drift Motion ...more

The Earth's Magnetic Field

The Earth has a magnetic field with north and south poles. The Earth's magnetic field reaches 36,000 miles into space. The magnetic field of the Earth is surrounded in a region called the magnetosphere....more

AU

AU stands for Astronomical Units. It is a useful way to measure the distances in interplanetary space. It is the distance between the Earth and the Sun, which is about 93 million miles. For reference,...more

The Spiral of the IMF

The solar wind is formed as the Sun's top layer blows off into space, carrying magnetic fields still attached to the Sun. Gusts form in the solar wind associated with violent events on the Sun. Particles...more

Spiral Path of Material

For a planet to be affected by a blob of material being ejected by the sun, the planet must be in the path of the blob, as shown in this picture. The Earth and its magnetosphere are shown in the bottom...more

The SAR Arc

The aurora we are most familiar with is the polar aurora. This is what people are talking about when they say the northern or southern lights. But there are other less-known aurora, such as SAR arcs....more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA