NASA probes detect man-made bubble around Earth

Gwen Vasquez
May 19, 2017

The US space agency is trying to figure out if the VLF signals could be used to remove the charged particles from the near-Earth environment.

Such information can help support NASA's efforts to protect satellites and astronauts from the natural radiation inherent in space.

From 1958 to 1962, the US and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ran high-altitude tests with exotic code names like Starfish, Argus and Teak. The tests have long since ended, and the goals at the time were military. They blew up these weapons anywhere from 16 miles above Earth to 250, well into space.

Human actions don't just have an effect on Earth's weather, but also the weather in space.

"The tests were a human-generated and extreme example of some of the space weather effects frequently caused by the sun", says Dr Phil Erickson, an observatory director at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and co-author of the research.

Not surprisingly, the erstwhile Soviet Union and the United States caused most of man-made space weather disturbance between 1958 and 1962 while conducting high-altitude tests. The charged particles can also threaten airlines by disturbing the Earth's magnetic field. Space weather can flood the upper atmosphere with charged particles, interrupting important communications systems. 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.

The researchers found that these Cold War-era tests gave rise to temporary radiation belts around Earth and even created artificial auroras that could be seen over the equator, instead of the poles.

This first created a massive, expanding fireball of plasma, followed by geomagnetic disturbance.

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These disturbances distorted Earth's magnetic field lines, according to NASA, and created an electric field on the surface.

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.

Some even failed as a result, NASA explains.

Although the induced radiation belts were physically similar to Earth's natural radiation belts, their trapped particles had different energies.

On such test was the Teak test of August 1, 1958.

Later that same year, when the Argus tests were conducted, effects were seen around the world. Geomagnetic storms were observed from Sweden to Arizona post the test.

Atmospheric nuclear tests are no longer allowed, and those artificial radiation belts are long gone.

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