RIP James Van Allen

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(1914-2006)

CHICAGO (Reuters) – American physicist James Van Allen, who helped propel the United States into the space race and discovered the bands of radiation that surround the Earth that were later named for him, died on Wednesday, the University of Iowa said.

Van Allen, a longtime professor at the university, died from undisclosed causes. He was 91.

He designed numerous instruments carried aboard U.S. space probes beginning with the instrumentation and Geiger counters aboard Explorer 1. The satellite went into Earth orbit January 31, 1958 — four months after the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik I triggered unease about America’s scientific prowess.

The Explorer mission led to the discovery of a doughnut-shaped region of charged-particle radiation encircling the Earth, now called the Van Allen belts.

Related:
Wikipedia’s entry on James Van Allen.