NASA's Van Allen Probes Detect 'Artificial Bubble Circle' Encircling Earth, Watch Video

Posted May 19, 2017

The tests, and other human-induced space weather, are the focus of a comprehensive new study published in Space Science Reviews.

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.

The tests conducted by the United States and USSR involved exploding nuclear weapons at 16 to 250 miles above the surface. The vivacious particles discharged by the test likely took after Earth's magnetic field lines to the Polynesian island country, initiating the aurora.

NASA's Van Allen Probes have discovered some odd radio wave activity in the space around Earth.

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. The radiation released from Argus alone caused an flurry of geomagnetic storms over Sweden and Arizona, according to the new study.

From the 1960s onwards, a radio communication type known as Very Low Frequency (VLF) has become much more used and we are discovering now how it influences the movement of certain particles in space.

NASA scientists say it's possible that the radiation barrier could be used to remove excess radiation from the area surrounding Earth, and tests are planned to determine whether this is possible.

The probes 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 sun conveys a huge number of high-energy particles, the sun based wind, which races out over the close planetary system before experiencing Earth and its magnetosphere, a defensive magnetic field encompassing the planet.

"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.

Dan Baker from the University of Colorado in the U.S. coined this lower limit the "impenetrable barrier" and speculates that if there were no human VLF transmissions, the boundary would likely stretch closer to Earth.

'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'. The artificially trapped charged particles remained in significant numbers for weeks, and in one case, years.