Trashing the Shields of Spaceship Earth
Hacking the Van Allen Belts
Photo: Sara Winter/Getty Images
Electric Light Orchestrated? Alas, even if we took control of the Van Allen belts, it probably wouldn't result in more auroras.
Could we save satellites and astronauts by wiping out the Van Allen belts?
By Charles Q. Choi
Ionospheric Heaters and Destroying the Van Allen Belts
When humans began exploring space, the first major find was the Van Allen radiation belts, doughnut-shaped zones of magnetically trapped, highly energetic charged particles. The Van Allen belts consist mainly of two rings: The inner belt starts roughly 1000 kilometers above Earth’s surface and extends up to 9600 km, while the outer belt stretches from about 13 500 to 58 000 km above Earth. The location and shapes of the belts can vary, and they can even merge completely.
High-energy protons are found within the area of the inner belt, whose size remains generally stable over the course of years to decades. The outer belt, on the other hand, is home to high-energy electrons and can vary dramatically in size and shape over the course of hours or days.
However, decades of models and observations suggest a more dramatic solution: using carefully tuned electromagnetic waves to drive these particles out of space and into Earth’s atmosphere. Scientists first explored the idea of dispersing electrons in the outer belt, and they are now targeting protons in the inner belt.
“It’s really mind-boggling to think there could be human control over such huge volumes of space,” says Jacob Bortnik, a space physicist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “On Earth we control nature all the time, like building dams, but the prospect of doing it in space is fascinating—it seems a bit like science fiction.”
One radiation-clearing strategy involves using very large radio transmitters on the ground to beam very low frequency (VLF) waves upward. These can in principle interact with and scatter charges in the radiation belt and drive them into the upper atmosphere.
“The result would be a little bit like auroras, although you wouldn’t see them,” Bortnik says.
Fig. 1. Observation geometry and image data from two low-light imaging systems capturing 557.7-nm emissions from a bull’s-eye-shaped artiﬁcial ionospheric plasma over the HAARP facility. A reconstruction based on the image data shows the central spot and the ring to form two distinct artiﬁcial layers separated in altitude by ∼15 km, which matches closely the multiple layers seen in ionosonde echoes (lower right).
The problem with that approach is getting VLF waves through the ionosphere, the layer of the atmosphere that sits about 80 to 640 km above Earth. “That layer is very conductive, so it’s hard to get signals through it efficiently,” Bortnik says.
Another strategy would station satellites that emit VLF waves in the radiation belts. “The problem is that you’d need quite a lot of energy,” Bortnik says, and large antennas that would be challenging to fit onto spacecraft.
Still, Bortnik points out, the U.S. Air Force’s Demonstration and Science Experiments (DSX) satellite, set for launch in 2016, will carry an instrument to monitor the effects that VLF waves broadcast in space might have on these dangerous electrons. “Those experiments can show how well VLF waves actually do, and maybe change what we think we know about what is needed to clear away electrons,” Bortnik says.
Initial efforts to clear the Van Allen belts targeted electrons because they tend to get trapped there as the result of high-altitude nuclear explosions. In 1962, a U.S. high-altitude nuclear weapons test named Starfish Prime generated a highly energetic artificial electron belt that disabled the first commercial communications satellite, TelStar 1, so researchers sought ways to protect spacecraft from nuclear weapons used in space.
However, it’s the protons in the inner belt that scientists have recently explored. Getting rid of them would potentially open up valuable new orbits for satellites and make travel safer for astronauts, says Maria de Soria-Santacruz Pich, whose Ph.D. work at MIT was on manipulating the Van Allen belts. It might also be impossible.
Pich and her colleagues recently refined the computational strategy needed to figure out what frequencies space-based antennas should use and how much power is needed. However, Pich also found that to disperse all the protons from the region, you’d need a million 15-meter antennas operating for a few years, “which is indeed not feasible in the near future,” she says.
Nonetheless, Pich noted, her calculations assume that the waves these antennas generate do not bounce back and forth inside the inner belt. If they do, that could greatly improve their effectiveness, potentially making the strategy possible. A satellite mission would decide the matter one way or another, but there’s a lot of engineering work needed to even propose such a mission, she says.
It remains uncertain as to whether removing these radiation belts might have unintended consequences.
“At present we don’t think there is any downside to not having them, but as with all things geophysical, it is hard to know all the complex interconnections between the various systems and estimate the full effect of removing the radiation belts completely,” Bortnik says.
“That’s the most any of us can really say at the moment.”
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The military has been trying to destroy or control our ionosphere, magnetosphere, and Van Allen Belts for over fifty years and now it is getting crazy. I find it highly ironic that Dr. Bortnik shoots electromagnetic missiles around our planet AND predicts earthquakes due to heated skies….. RRRREALLY!?! I see what you did there, chicken before the egg my butt. Read more about “radiation belt remediation” and the whole story here on our HAARP and the Sky Heaters page]
About the Author
This article originally appeared in print as “Can We Hack the Van Allen Belts?.”
Mirrored from: http://spectrum.ieee.org/aerospace/astrophysics/hacking-the-van-allen-belts
Via Climate Viewer News @ http://climateviewer.com/2015/01/01/ionospheric-heaters-destroying-van-allen-belts/
For more information about HAARP see http://nexusilluminati.blogspot.com/search/label/haarp
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