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In 1958 the United States had completed six high-altitude nuclear tests, but the high-altitude tests of that year produced many unexpected results and raised many new questions. According to the U.S. Government Project Officer's Interim Report on the Starfish Prime project:
While some of the energetic beta particles followed the Earth's magnetic field and illuminated the sky, other high-energy electrons became trapped and formed radiation belts around the earth. There was much uncertainty and debate about the composition, magnitude and potential adverse effects from this trapped radiation after the detonation. The weaponeers became quite worried when three satellites in low earth orbit were disabled. These man-made radiation belts eventually crippled one-third of all satellites in low earth orbit. Seven satellites failed over the months following the test as radiation damaged their solar arrays or electronics, including the first commercial relay communication satellite, Telstar. Detectors on Telstar, TRAAC, Injun, and Ariel 1 were used to measure distribution of the radiation produced by the tests.
In 1963, Brown et al. reported in the Journal of Geophysical Research that Starfish Prime had created a belt of MeV electrons, and Wilmot Hess reported in 1968 that some Starfish electrons remained for five years. Others reported that radioactive particles from Starfish Prime descended to earth seasonally and accumulated in terrestrial organisms such as fungi and lichens.
The Starfish Prime explosion
on 9 July 1962, at 09:00:09 Coordinated Universal Time, (which was 8 July, Honolulu time, at nine seconds after 11 p.m.), the Starfish Prime test was successfully detonated at an altitude of 400 kilometres (250 mi). The coordinates of the detonation were 16 degrees, 28 minutes North latitude, 169 degrees, 38 minutes West longitude. The actual weapon yield was very close to the design yield, which has been described by various sources at different values in the range of 1.4 to 1.45 megatons (6.0 PJ).
The Van Allen radiation belt is a torus of energetic charged particles (plasma) around Earth, which is held in place by Earth's magnetic field. It is believed that most of the particles that form the belts come from solar wind, and other particles by cosmic rays. It is named after its discoverer, James Van Allen, and is located in the inner region of the Earth's magnetosphere. It is split into two distinct belts, with energetic electrons forming the outer belt and a combination of protons and electrons forming the inner belts. In addition, the radiation belts contain lesser amounts of other nuclei, such as alpha particles. The belts pose a hazard to satellites, which must protect their sensitive components with adequate shielding if their orbit spends significant time in the radiation belts.
Originally posted by ShadeWolf
The purpose of the test was to determine the upper atmospheric effects of a nuclear detonation, and had no effect on the ground. However,.