Six-decade-old space mystery solved with shoebox-sized satellite called a CubeSat

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Imagine a fully instrumented satellite the size of a half-gallon milk carton. Then imagine that milk carton whirling in space, catching never-before-seen glimpses of atmospheric and geospace processes. CubeSats, named for the roughly 4-inch-cubed dimensions of their basic building elements, are stacked with smartphone-like electronics and tiny scientific instruments. Built mainly by students and hitching rides into orbit on NASA and U.S. Department of Defense launch vehicles, the small, low-cost satellites have been making history. Now, results from a new study using CubeSats indicate that energetic electrons in Earth’s inner radiation belt — primarily near its inner edge — are created by cosmic rays born from supernova explosions.

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