Sci-tech

VLF bubble: Man-made barrier around Earth prevents plan high-energy space radiation

VLF bubble: Man-made barrier around Earth prevents plan high-energy space radiation

Humans have always been shaping Earth's landscape, but now scientists have found that we can shape our near-space environment as well. Understanding how the VLF transmission shapes our space environment would help us protect our satellites from natural space radiation, said NASA.

From 1958 to 1962, the USA and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ran high-altitude tests with exotic code names like Starfish, Argus and Teak. It's been long since the tests have been completed, and the objectives at the time were limited only to the military. While the tests have long since ended, today they continue to provide crucial information on how humans can affect space.

"The tests were a human-generated and extreme example of some of the space weather effects frequently caused by the sun", said Phil Erickson, assistant director at MIT's Haystack Observatory, Westford, Massachusetts, and co-author on the paper.

'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 regions within the magnetosphere where high-energy protons and electrons are trapped by Earth's magnetic field. Space weather can flood the upper atmosphere with charged particles, interrupting important communications systems. That radiation can damage satellites, interrupt communications and cause the aurora borealis. This created a geomagnetic disturbance, which distorted Earth's magnetic field lines and induced an electric field on the surface. Led by a scientist from the University of MI, the researchers say that the plasma created in the explosions interacted with the planet's magnetic field and created an artificial version of the Van Allen belts that encircle the Earth.

The real discovery was the realization that VLF signals can actually have an effect on how radiation belt particles are moving.

The Teak test, conducted on August 1, 1958, was eminent for the simulated aurora that came about.

These stunning light shows are typically only seen at the poles, and the researchers say the particles from the blast likely followed Earth's magnetic field lines to reach this unusual place.

The tests conducted by the United States and USSR involved exploding nuclear weapons at 16 to 250 miles above the surface. 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. They observed two high-speed waves: the first travelled at 1,860 miles per second and the second, less than a fourth that speed.

Up until 1963, both the US and Soviet governments conducted over 500 atmospheric nuclear weapons tests.


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