June 24, 2017

Radio communications have surprising influence on Earth's near-space environment

19 May 2017, 11:00 | Kevin Scott

Radio communications have surprising influence on Earth's near-space environment

NASA discovered a man-made barrier around Earth that might protect us from space storms

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.

In certain situations, these interactions can create a barrier surrounding the planet and protect it from solar flares, coronal mass ejections, and other potentially unsafe space weather, NASA said. Though these waves are meant for communicating below the surface, they tend to go beyond our atmosphere and cover Earth in a VLF bubble.

By and large, space weather - which affects the region of near-Earth space where astronauts and satellites travel - is typically driven by external factors. The artificially trapped charged particles remained in significant numbers for weeks, and in one case, years.

But the changes might not all be bad. This ephemeral bubble adds to the already protective magnetosphere, encompassing our planet. The findings - detailed in the journal Space Science Reviews - suggest VLF waves are pushing the Van Allen Belts outward.

An interesting coincidence has been observed by the probes, i.e., the outward extent of VLF bubble nearly perfectly matches the inner edge of the Van Allen radiation belts.

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

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Analysis of 1960s data indicates that the Van Allen radiation belt's inner limit was much closer to Earth than it is today, as VLF signals were used much less frequently.

NASA space probes have discovered a human-made shield that seems to have a massive impact on space conditions reaching outside the scope of our blue planet. The study also examines other anthropogenic impacts on space weather. These are all names of nuclear tests the USA ran in the 1950s and '60s.

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.

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. The researchers hope to figure out how these blasts created or disrupted space weather. "If we come to know what exactly happened in 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".

But it's not all bad news.

While space weather - which can include changes in Earth's magnetic environment - are usually triggered by the sun's activity, 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.

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