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

Cesar Mills
May 19, 2017

To those unknown, Earth is encircled by two such radiation belts alongside an impermanent third belt and the inner belt is spread out from almost 640 to 9,600 km (400 to 6,000 miles) on the top of Earth's surface, while its outer belt is stretched to an altitude of almost 13,500 to 58,000 km (8,400 to 36,000 miles).

Astronauts are not in immediate danger because of the relatively low orbit of this manned mission.

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

The barrier is created when VLF signals go high up into the atmosphere, forming what scientists call a "VLF bubble", which interacts with the inner edge of the Van Allen radiation belts, arcs around the planet full of charged particles created by solar wind.

Some tests created distortions in Earth's magnetic fields, and one even caused its own aurora.

On such test was the Teak test of August 1, 1958. The test was conducted over Johnston Island in the Pacific Ocean.

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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.

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. At times, these interactions can create a barrier around Earth against natural high energy particle radiation in space.

On Wednesday, NASA Goddard Space Center announced that the two probes had helped scientists identify an envelope of very low frequency (VLF) radio waves encircling Earth.

The existence of VLF bubble has also been verified by spacecrafts in the space, such as NASA's Van Allen Probes, which study electrons and ions in the near-Earth environment. Scientists were using the Van Allen Probes to study the impact of man-made "space weather" when they found the VLF bubbles.

Dan Baker, director of the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder, described the new barrier as the "impenetrable barrier" and speculates that if there were no VLF transmissions, the Van Allen Belts would be closer to Earth, exposing us to more radiation from space.

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

Other reports by GizPress

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