VLF radio waves are used for submarines, and have out-of-this-world side affects.
Humanity is changing the near-space environment around Earth, NASA scientists have discovered, and we’re not talking about all the space junk orbiting our planet. A type of radio communication known as Very Low Frequencies (VLF) have been found to interact with particles in space, affecting where and how they move.
Occasionally, these interactions create a barrier around Earth against natural high energy particle radiation in space. “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,” says Phil Erickson, assistant director at the MIT Haystack Observatory, Westford, Massachusetts.
Chances are you don’t interact with VLF very often in your everyday life, but they’re most often used in engineering, scientific, and military endeavours. These extremely large wavelengths need an extremely large antenna to be used. America’s old HAARP program in Alaska was set up to use VLF radio waves, for example. While their size makes them impractical to use on a day-to-day basis, VLF radio waves also show a certain flexibility. They can travel through water with ease, making them the go-to communications wavelength for submarines.
Even though such waves are sent through the ocean, they spread outwards to the extent that the entire Earth has been covered in a VLF bubble. NASA’s Van Allen Probes—meant to study the radiation belts that conspiracy theorists use to suggest mankind never visited the Moon—started to notice that ” the outward extent of the VLF bubble corresponds almost exactly to the inner edge” of the belts.
Scientists speculate the VLF bubble is keeping the Van Allen Belts at bay—that if there were no human VLF transmissions, it would be much closer to Earth. History backs this up. Looking at satellite data on the Van Allen Belts in the 1960’s, when VLF radio waves were even more limited than they are today, they were closer to Earth.
The knowledge that mankind has built something that’s affecting space means, hypothetically, a chance for further modification. They could cleanse our atmosphere of excess radiation, a hazard along the route to mass space travel. If that gets to be the case, expect VLF wavelengths to become a lot more famous.
This article was originally written for and published by Popular Mechanics USA.