Published: Fri, May 19, 2017
Science | By Cecil Little

NASA probes detect man-made bubble around Earth

NASA probes detect man-made bubble around Earth

"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.

The VLF waves propagate outward into space and serve to deflect high-energy particles that could cause harm to organic life, a potentially beneficial finding for researchers attempting to protect human spacefarers from cosmic radiation. But the energy from nuclear explosions created hot, electrically charged regions within the atmosphere that induced geomagnetic disturbances, and even produced radiation belts of its own.

SEE MORE: You Can Now Watch Declassified Nuclear Weapons Tests.

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Not surprisingly, the erstwhile Soviet Union and the USA caused most of man-made space weather disturbance between 1958 and 1962 while conducting high-altitude tests.

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. The charged particles can also threaten airlines by disturbing the Earth's magnetic field. The probes have noticed an interesting coincidence-the outward extent of the VLF bubble corresponds nearly exactly to the inner edge of the Van Allen radiation belts, a layer of charged particles held in place by Earth's magnetic fields. The test was conducted over Johnston Island in the Pacific Ocean.

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

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Humans have always been shaping Earth's landscape, but now scientists have found that we can shape our near-space environment as well. The artificially trapped charged particles remained in significant numbers for weeks, and in one case, years. Something we're only just learning, though, is how far beyond Earth they can travel, too.

"Ivy Mike" atmospheric nuclear test, taken in November 1952.

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. They observed two high-speed waves: the first travelled at 1,860 miles per second and the second, less than a fourth that speed.

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