Man-Made Radio Signals Have Created A Giant Bubble Around Earth


The discovery was made using the Van Allen Probes, spacecraft launched in 2012 to monitor the bands of charged particles surrounding the Earth. As you can probably guess, the results were not so great - according to the study's authors, this resulted in "major damages to several satellites" that orbited Earth at a fairly low altitude.

As the United States 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. As Marina Koren writes for The Atlantic, "The bubble forms a protective barrier around Earth, shielding the planet from potentially risky space weather, like solar flares and other ejections from the sun".

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 mechansisms that set off perturbations in that magnetic system. The charged particles can also threaten airlines by disturbing the Earth's magnetic field. 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.

Though these belts are invisible to the naked eye, the Teak nuclear bomb test near Hawaii was reported to have spawned auroras as far south as Western Samoa.

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With further study, VLF transmissions may serve as a way to remove excess radiation from the near-Earth environment. True to their name, VLF radio waves have very low frequencies - between 3 kHz and 30 kHz -and therefore also extremely long wavelengths - between 100 and 10 kilometers. The Teak test, which took place on August 1, 1958, was notable for the artificial aurora that resulted.

Atmospheric nuclear tests are no longer allowed, and those artificial radiation belts are long gone. Sudden geomagnetic storms were observed from Sweden to Arizona and scientists used the observed time of the events to determine the speed at which the particles from the explosion traveled.

The Van Allen radiation belt can be defined as a torus of energetic charged particles (i.e. plasma) that have originated from solar winds. Radiation around Earth isn't odd in and of itself, as the Van Allen Belts are the loci of strong radiation surrounding our planet.

"The tests were a human-generated and extreme example of some of the space weather effects frequently caused by the sun", said Erickson. Now scientists at NASA have discovered that we have also been shaping our near-space environments with radio signals.