Humans have an overwhelming impact on our planet. There is barely a place you can escape to that is free from the heavy hand of human interference. Even the deepest depths of the ocean, our space on Earth, has been infiltrated. New research now shows that our influence has spread outside Earth’s atmosphere into space. Scientist discovered that very low frequency (VLF) radio signals interact with space particles, affecting their movement and location.
VLF signals originate from ground stations and are transmitted to submarines deep in the ocean. The energy needed to relay these signals underwater also sends them hurdling through our atmosphere and into space. There are times when VLF signals create a wall between the Earth and high energy particle radiation. NASA’s Van Allen Probes can detect the barrier created by these signals. The Van Allen Probes study the large radiation belts, dubbed the Van Allen radiation belts, which surround the Earth and are greatly affected by the space weather between the planet and the Sun.
There are still many questions concerning how these belts gain and lose energy and how solar anomalies affect the composition and size of the belts along with their interaction with our atmosphere. Researchers have found that the VLF bubble extends to the inner edge of the Van Allen radiation belt. They believe that the VLF transmissions are pushing the belts further away from the planet then where they were in the 1960’s. There are plans to test the use of VLFs in the upper atmosphere with the goal of removing radiation during times of extreme space weather, when radiation is more present in our atmosphere.
This phenomenon was recently released in a larger publication on man-made effects on our space environment in the Space Science Review. An analysis of Cold War nuclear testing by the US and the USSR in our atmosphere was also included in this paper. Recently declassified information documents the effects of these explosions on our near-Earth space environment. The nuclear explosions in some instances distorted Earth’s magnetic field, created temporary radiation belts akin to the Van Allen belts and in one instance caused spontaneous geomagnetic storms all over the planet.
The human influence pervades well beyond the physical space we manifest. Only time will tell the lasting impact we have on the planet we take for granted.