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Earth NASA Space Science

Humans Accidentally Made a Space Cocoon For Ourselves Out of Radio Waves (vice.com) 137

An anonymous reader shares a Motherboard article: Humans have accidentally created a protective bubble around Earth by using very low frequency (VLF) radio transmissions to contact submarines in the ocean. It sounds nuts, but according to recent research published in Space Science Reviews, underwater communication through VLF channels has an outer space dimension. This video explainer, released by NASA on Wednesday, visualizes how radio waves wafting into space interact with the particles surrounding Earth, and influence their motion. Satellites in certain high-altitude orbits, such as NASA's particle-watching Van Allen Probes, have observed these VLF ripples creating an 'impenetrable boundary,' a phrase coined by study co-author Dan Baker, director of the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. This doesn't mean impenetrable to spacecraft or asteroids, per se, but rather to potentially harmful particle showers created by turbulent space weather.
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Humans Accidentally Made a Space Cocoon For Ourselves Out of Radio Waves

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  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Thursday May 18, 2017 @11:29AM (#54441635) Homepage Journal

    If you can get people there without the proteins in their brain being denatured by radiation, maybe you could keep them that way for extended periods without their brains turning into scrambled eggs.

    • by Oswald McWeany ( 2428506 ) on Thursday May 18, 2017 @11:42AM (#54441747)

      If you can get people there without the proteins in their brain being denatured by radiation, maybe you could keep them that way for extended periods without their brains turning into scrambled eggs.

      It wouldn't work on Mars because there are no oceans to put Submarines in to communicate with.

      / yes I'm being facetious.

    • Also suppose the core of the earth solidifies and loses it's magnetism, this could be used to prevent the atmosphere from evaporating into space.
      • by Baron_Yam ( 643147 ) on Thursday May 18, 2017 @01:24PM (#54442663)

        1) Don't worry about the core, it'll last. It's currently at ~5000K and will be at ~4950K in a billion years... which is about 300M years after the surface will be baked sterile by the Sun.

        2) Even so... it would take a LONG time for the solar wind to strip our atmosphere away. And in fact, it turns out we were wrong about the effect of the Earth's magnetic field; it is actually helping the solar wind heat and strip the atmosphere. At current depletion rates, it's estimated to be good for another 4 billion years or so. That's more than 3 billion years after the planet is baked and around the time it'll be engulfed by the Sun.

        We really don't need to worry about the core, its magnetic field, or the density of the planetary atmosphere.

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Thursday May 18, 2017 @11:32AM (#54441663)
    >> 'impenetrable boundary,' a phrase coined by study co-author Dan Baker

    Or anyone who's forgotten their wife's birthday. Amirite?
  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Thursday May 18, 2017 @11:37AM (#54441703) Journal
    Seriously, if this can lower possible harm to a ground crew, that could be useful. Perhaps directed to cover a small area.
  • "Now Witness the Firepower of this fully Armed and Operational Earth!"

  • Is this how they lost contact with their alien overlords?

  • Maybe a first step in terraforming Mars. And does this "shield" keep particles in as well as out? If it works both ways it could help prevent atmospheric depletion and allow bulking up the atmosphere on celestial bodies that have lost their magnetic fields. Lake Armstrong here we come! And maybe even generation ships crossing interstellar distances.
    • Maybe a first step in terraforming Mars. And does this "shield" keep particles in as well as out? If it works both ways it could help prevent atmospheric depletion and allow bulking up the atmosphere on celestial bodies that have lost their magnetic fields. Lake Armstrong here we come! And maybe even generation ships crossing interstellar distances.

      Would it work without the magnetic field of the earth? It appears to be interacting with Earth's magnetic field. Mars has a much weaker magnetic field, I don't know if the magnetic field is important for it to work, if it is, this wouldn't work on Mars.

  • by Rick Schumann ( 4662797 ) on Thursday May 18, 2017 @12:58PM (#54442375) Journal
    So, basically (and unwittingly), we're using the Earths' own natural magnetic field as a carrier wave, and our VLF emissions are modulating it? Cool.
    Makes me wonder if, now knowing this, we could engineer the effect to, say, mitigate the effects of solar flares on our various technologies?
  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Thursday May 18, 2017 @01:02PM (#54442415)
    Basically, we've figured out how to make a rudimentary deflector shield.
  • Solar storm approaching! Earth shields to maximum power! *hits big red button on VLF machine*
  • (This sounds like an episode of The X-Files.)

    So the real answer to the Fermi Paradox is... Before a coronal mass ejection hits the planet, civilization has to have developed... submarines. Well, *that's* counter-intuitive.

  • Nothing New Here (Score:4, Informative)

    by jasnw ( 1913892 ) on Thursday May 18, 2017 @02:45PM (#54443379)
    This effect has been known, and studied, for many years. One of the early discoverers, and researchers into the effect, was Robert Helliwell of Stanford. ELF generated by lightning, which is happening around the world all the time, was triggering this cleaning-out of the earth's inner radiation belt long before the first submarine ever existed. I'm afraid this is old news in a typical NASA PR flack package. I suspect there are people waiting in the wings ready to propose setting up large ELF transmitters along the equatorward edge of the auroral zone so as to clean out the radiation belts on a routine basis. I believe this sort of thing was even proposed (may still be on the books) as a way to dump out an artificial radiation belt generated by a high altitude nuclear explosion (like the Starfish experiment back in 1962) should some Bad Guys decide to do that as part of an attack on satellite assets.
    • Oops - for ELF in my post read VLF. My irritation with NASA fuzzed my brain. For those interested in the physics/math behind all this, take a look at "Particle Diffusion in the Radiation Belts" by Michael Schulz and Lou Lanzerrotti (published in 1974 - NOT news).
  • Considering the major impact that the solar wind has on high level ozone concentrations and cloud formation that we're only beginning to understand, one might wonder how much of an impact this may be having on global temperature.

    BTW, that linked video was pretty nearly worthless explaining anything.

  • Since our magnetic shield is almost toast right now, this really is GOOD news. I, for one. don't care to be bombarded with high energy protons, and right now the sun has been loosing them on us at a furious pace...

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