NASA space probes have detected a massive, human-made ‘barrier’ surrounding Earth, and tests have confirmed that it’s actually having an effect on space weather far beyond our planet’s atmosphere.
That means we’re not just changing Earth so severely, scientists are calling for a whole new geological epoch to be named after us – our activities have been changing space too. But the good news is that unlike our influence on the planet itself, that humungous bubble we created out in space is actually working in our favour.
Back in 2012, NASA launched two space probes to work in tandem with each other as they whizzed through Earth’s Van Allen Belts at speeds of around 3,200 km/h (2,000 mph).
Our planet is surrounded by two such radiation belts (and a temporary third one) – the inner belt stretches from around 640 to 9,600 km (400 to 6,000 miles) above Earth’s surface, while the outer belt occupies an altitude of roughly 13,500 to 58,000 km (8,400 to 36,000 miles).
Recently, the Van Allen Probes detected something strange as they monitored the activity of charged particles caught within Earth’s magnetic field – these dangerous solar discharges were being kept at bay by some kind of low frequency barrier.
When researchers investigated, they found that this barrier had been actively pushing the Van Allen Belts away from Earth over the past few decades, and now the lower limits of the radiation streams are actually further away from us than they were in the 1960s.
So what’s changed?
A certain type of communications, called Very Low Frequency (VLF) radio communications, have become far more common now than in the 60s, and the team at NASA confirmed that they can influence how and where certain particles in space move about.