BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The eerie glow of the northern lights are the footprints of intense radiation trapped above the earth.

Massive solar eruptions release highly charged particles, which would be deadly on the ground if it weren’t for the protection of Earth’s magnetic field.

“Some of these particles actually get trapped inside the magnetosphere, and there’s a lot of radiation in that environment,” said  Dr. Yari Collado-Vega at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Which is where two NASA probes have been cruising for more than six years, unlocking secrets of the invisible radiation belts circling above Earth.

“We have learned much more about how these particles get trapped, how they have their motion, how they accelerate, their losses,” Collado-Vega said.

Now the mission enters its final phase. The probes will be brought into lower orbits, and will eventually burn up in the atmosphere.

“We’re pretty much saying goodbye to the mission, but we’re still analyzing data,” Collado-Vega said.

The science collected in this mission is important to technology we often take for granted.

“This area is well within the orbit of many of the satellites we have in space and that kind of radiation can effect instrumentation. And if that happens then you have the loss in communications, GPS signal loss and that would affect the technology we use every day,” Collado-Vega said.

It also threatens astronauts, who have sheltered from radiation bursts in the past. What the probes unlock could lead to better shielding for humans and spacecraft.

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Alex DeMetrick

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