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Particles trapped in the Earth’s magnetic field bounce back and forth in space, creating a flux of radiation. There are natural sources of these particles from the Sun and artificial sources from high-altitude nuclear explosions. Given proper warning, a satellite can be commanded to adjust its orbit to avoid the most intense radiation.

A contour cross-section of a Van Allen Belt. A high-altitude nuclear explosion increases the natural amount of trapped radiation in the Van Allen belts. The cross-section’s color represents the intensity of this trapped radiation. The blue line is the orbital path of a satellite and the pink arrows show the commanded thrust direction over an orbit which will most avoid the radiation.