NASA's Van Allen Probes Find Radio Wave Shroud Enveloping Earth

A certain type of communications—very low frequency radio communications—have been found to interact with particles in space affecting how and where they move
NASA's Van Allen Probes Find Radio Wave Shroud Enveloping Earth

20 May, 2017

The data from these probes suggest that the outer edge of the VLF transmission corresponds with a layer of charged particles at the inner edge of the Van Allen Belts. Particularly strong waves of particles can interfere with communications satellites and even knock out power grids on Earth - one particularly strong storm in 1859 even caused sparks to fly from telegraph machines. When they do, they can alter the movement of radiation particles in the vicinity, and on occasion, this interaction leads to the creation of a barrier which can be spotted by the orbiting Van Allen Probes. The US space agency had launched the twin Van Allen Probes in 2012 to study the radiation belts surrounding our planet.

'If we understand what happened in the somewhat controlled and extreme event that was caused by one of these man-made events, we can more easily understand the natural variation in the near-space environment'. Cold War-era tests upsurged temporary radiation belts around the Earth and gave rise to artificial auroras that are visible on the equators and not on the poles.

This means, human beings are not just contributing to the alterations of Earth and its climate so severely, but also are having a significant influence on the space weather.

Space weather ― which can include changes in Earth's magnetic environment ― are usually triggered by the sun's activity, but recently declassified data on high-altitude nuclear explosion tests have provided a new look at the mechanisms that set off perturbations in that magnetic system. Watching how the tests brought about aurora, can give understanding into what the normal auroral components are as well.

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But now we have evidence that we also affect the vacuum of space around us. These disturbances slanted Earth's magnetic field lines thus creating an electric field.

As the U.S. space agency announced on Wednesday, the Van Allen space probes have detected a new, artificial bubble surrounding Earth that was the result of the interplay between very low frequency (VLF) radio communications and high-energy radiation particles. Because of this thrust, the lower limits of the emission flows are actually sitting far away from Earth than they were in the 1960s. The radiation released from Argus alone caused an flurry of geomagnetic storms over Sweden and Arizona, according to the new study. A different explosion let them see how fast the particles traveled, in once case as fast as 1,860 miles per second.

The tests conducted by the United States and USSR involved exploding nuclear weapons at 16 to 250 miles above the surface. This is because the barrier is actually influencing space weather even beyond the Earth's atmosphere.

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