NASA probes spot man-made 'bubble' around Earth

NASA probes spot man-made 'bubble' around Earth

NASA probes spot man-made 'bubble' around Earth

But the data could help NASA protect astronauts and satellites from space radiation.

From 1958 to 1962, the USA and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ran high-elevation tests with intriguing code names like Starfish, Argus and Teak. While the tests have long since ended, today they continue to provide crucial information on how humans can affect space. The tests, and another human-initiated space climate, are the concentration of an exhaustive new review distributed in Space Science Reviews.

"A number of experiments and observations have figured out that, under the right conditions, radio communications signals in the VLF frequency range can in fact affect the properties of the high-energy radiation environment around the Earth, " said Phil Erickson, assistant director at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Haystack Observatory, Westford, Massachusetts.

'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'.

These belts are formed when particles emitted by the sun get caught up in our magnetic pull and form eddies around the Earth.

These particles, along with electromagnetic energy that accompanies them, can also cause auroras, while changes in the magnetic field can induce currents that damage power grids. This made a geomagnetic unsettling influence, which mutilated Earth's magnetic field lines and prompted an electric field at first glance.

The so-called impenetrable barrier extends to the inner edges of the Van Allen radiation belts, which are a collection of charged particles held in place by our planet's magnetic field.

The particles remained trapped in these regions for weeks and, in one case, years, affecting electronic systems aboard high-flying satellites.

The real discovery was the realization that VLF signals can actually have an effect on how radiation belt particles are moving. Around the same time, the Apia Observatory in Western Samoa watched a profoundly uncommon aurora, which is regularly just seen in at the shafts. The charged solar particles frequently interact with the Earth's magnetic field, a phenomenon scientists call space weather. Watching how the tests brought about aurora, can give understanding into what the normal auroral components are as well.

The tests conducted by the U.S. and USSR involved exploding nuclear weapons at 16 to 250 miles above the surface. These tests were conducted at higher altitudes than previous tests, allowing the particles to travel farther around Earth.

According to NASA, the test caused geomagnetic storms detected from Sweden all the way to Arizona, with two high-speed waves of particles traveling at 1,860 miles per second and nearly 500 miles per second, respectively.

The study concludes that Cold War-era nuclear tests created layers of artificial radiation belts typically generated by the sun.

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