Concept of Van Allen belts

NASA Detects Artificial Barrier Around Earth, A Shield That Protects Planet From Solar Flares

NASA (National Space and Aeronautics Administration) has detected an artificial barrier — a protective belt, as it were — encircling the Earth in a defensive shield, scientists say. The barrier is an inadvertent layer in addition to the Van Allen electromagnetic belts and appears to act in the same fashion — shielding the planet from harmful radiation and the occasional dangerous solar flare.

As Newsweek reported this week, NASA space probes were the first to detect the man-made barrier — a sheathe of very low frequency radio waves interacting with particles surrounding the Earth in space. Although not at all stable, the interaction acts something like a shield and defends the Earth from harmful radiation from space. And it is believed that the shield could potentially offer protection against CMEs (Coronal Mass Ejections), massive explosions that emanate from the Sun, where plasmas and magnetic field are ejected from the Sun’s corona, which is the outermost part of the star’s atmosphere. Such mass ejections can sometimes result in geomagnetic storms, which have the potential to knock out communication satellites in space and power grids on Earth.

The Carrington Event of 1859 is often used as a cautionary tale as to what a geomagnetic solar storm can do, being that it remains one of the largest geomagnetic storms ever recorded and the largest to have ever struck the planet. The History Channel website relates that telegraph transmissions were disrupted around the world, caused by a solar flare that erupted with the energy of 10 billion atomic bombs. A 2008 National Academy of Sciences report revealed that a similar CME occurring with today’s extensive reliance on electrical grids and electronic devices could cause “extensive social and economic disruptions” due to its impact on said power grids, satellite communications, and GPS systems. Such a disruption would cost an estimated $1 trillion to $2 trillion, according to the report, not to mention tremendous social upheaval and an untold number of casualties to the temporary and/or permanent loss of necessary life-saving and life-preserving services and facilities.

But the barrier, as NASA scientists discovered, is the result of very low frequency transmissions that, instead of finding their targets of submarines, end up in the Earth’s atmosphere. NASA found that the transmissions form what they call a “VLF bubble,” which extends from the inner edge of the Van Allen radiation belts that encircle the Earth out into space. It is when the VLF bubble interacts with the Van Allen belts that the barrier thus created can be observed.

Scientists contend that if the VLF bubble did not exist, the boundary of the radiation belts would be far closer to the Earth than they currently are. In fact, the Van Allen radiation belts, according to data from the 1960s, were indeed closer to Earth prior to the widespread use of VLF.

Concept of Van Allen radiation belts
The Van Allen belts shield the Earth from harmful electromagnetic particles and radiation. [Image by Naeblys/Shutterstock]

Phil Erickson, one of the University of Michigan scientists involved in the research, said in a statement, “A number of experiments and observations have figured out that, under the right conditions, radio communications signals in the VLF frequency range can in fact affect the properties of the high-energy radiation environment around the Earth.”

Nuclear bomb radiation glow
Nuclear bombs helped create an artificial Van Allen belt throughout the duration of the atomic bomb tests. [Image by Dariush M/Shutterstock]

The research also showed, according to Discover magazine, that an artificial version of the Van Allen belts was created from the plasma of the explosions of all the atmospheric nuclear bomb tests conducted by the U.S. and Russia prior to 1963 (over 500). Various pieces of research carried out during the time, all of which are declassified now, included one test where the velocity of the charged particles were calculated and another (per the abstract of the paper published in Space Science Reviews) that detected the impact of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that was shown to have a devastating effect on an extended geographical area.

[Featured Image by Marc Ward/Shutterstock]