Science 4 min read

How Humanity Accidentally Made Earth a "Snow Globe"

Van Allen Probes find a barrier of charged particles among the Van Allen Radiation Belts | NASA | Goddard

Van Allen Probes find a barrier of charged particles among the Van Allen Radiation Belts | NASA | Goddard

Human action on the planet is not absolutely destructive. NASA reports that humanity, unwittingly, has created a protective forcefield surrounding the Earth.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to consider all of the anthropogenic activities with detrimental effects on ecosystems that shape life on Earth. Humanity has, for its civilized history, been transforming the planet very deeply, often in less-than-desirable ways, even to the point of compromising survival chances of future generations.

Most often, humanity has meant well but ended up reaping unforeseen consequences. This time, it seems that which was unforeseen is actually beneficial for the planet.

Humanity accidentally created a forcefield protecting Earth!Click To Tweet

Accidental Human-Made Forcefield–Oops?

Not only do human activities transform terrestrial landscapes, but as it turns out, they change the near-space environment as well. Humanity has created an additional electromagnetic field that surrounds the planet and protects it from harmful solar particles, or so NASA announced in a press release last week.

There are two belts made of energetic charged particles trapped by Earth’s magnetic field and held around the planet. Known as the Van Allen Belts, discovered in 1958, these two layers shield the planet from being bombarded with solar wind and space radiation. But NASA’s two probes dedicated to studying the belts–Van Allen Probes, launched in 2012–have detected an artificial bubble that’s formed by the interaction between VLF waves and charged space particles.

VLF radio waves, or those with very low frequencies (3 to 30 kHz) are used for military purposes, especially for submarines communication for their penetrative capacity even deep underwater.

Some of these waves can also spread through space, and once there, they interact with charged particles and form an additional barrier against damaging elements of space weather. As VLF waves interact with these charged particles passing spacecraft can actually visual the barrier.

The barrier can protect the Earth against solar flares and coronal mass ejections of plasma.

Human-Induced Effects on Space Weather

Before VLF waves were widely used starting in the 1960s, the inner edges of the two belts were closer to Earth than they are now. According to data from NASA’s probes, the artificial bubble or forcefield has been keeping the Van Allen belts from getting closer to the planet.

However, VLF transmission is only one of many anthropogenic tools exerted on the near-space environment.

vlf waves
“This animated gif shows how particles move through Earth’s radiation belts, the large donuts around Earth. The sphere in the middle shows a cloud of colder material called the plasmasphere. New research shows that the plasmasphere helps keep fast electrons from the radiation belts away from Earth.”| NASA | Goddard | Scientific Visualization Studio

A comprehensive study, published in the journal Space Science Reviews, lists many human-induced impacts, such as nuclear tests, on near-space.

The USA and the former Soviet Union tested many high-altitude nuclear explosions between 1958 and 1962. These nuclear detonations carried out at 16 to 250 miles above the Earth’s surface, created temporary artificial radiation belts near Earth and destroyed several satellites, not to mention damaging electromagnetic pulses (EMPs).

Beside VLF signals and nuclear blasts, anthropogenic impacts on space weather include chemical release experiments and wave heating of the ionosphere.

NASA hopes to understand and investigate these anthropogenic impacts on space to better understand how this artificial forcefield came to be.

How Could we use This Forcefield?

We’ve tried to create artificial barriers before, including by launching billions of tiny copper wires into the atmosphere to protect communication systems against solar storms in the 1960s. This plan didn’t work.

Yet, now we could, presumably, use VLF waves to bolster Earth’s defenses.

This could become extremely useful should we encounter another powerful geomagnetic solar storm like the Carrington Event in 1859.

Terraform Mars?

NASA has even considered using VLF waves to trigger a similar sort of effect around Mars. The thought is that this could bolster Mars’s atmosphere and potentially make it more habitable for life.

Yet, consider this interesting observation by Redditor @SurfaceReflection:
The meager atmosphere Mars has right now is in equilibrium with the Solar wind based attrition. So, whatever processes on Mars are producing its extremely thin atmosphere are sufficient to stop the losses. So, we don’t need any magnetic shield to “protect atmosphere” or to terraform Mars. It would be nice to have one for other reasons but not for that.

What do you think? If you have some understanding of this subject, please feel free to share what you see as the likely implications of discovery of this forcefield.

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

Comment (1)
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  1. Avadon May 30 at 4:55 am GMT

    Interesting. I’d like to know who the moron was that shot billions of tiny copper particles into the atmosphere and kick him in the cahones. What at stupid idea that could have a human health and environmental impact,

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