Humans take a beating when it comes to the environment.
Sure, we're part of the natural order here on Planet Earth, but because we're at the top of the food chain, we get a lot of blame when things go wrong. Humans have driven thousands of species extinct, some by habitat destruction, others by pure gluttony (we literally ate all the flightless dodo birds — literally). And, of course, whenever the temperature warms (or cools), it's mankind's fault.
But sometimes, every so often, the human race gets a little credit, too. Like this week, when NASA reported that space probes discovered an artificial barrier around Earth that was created purely by human activity.
The barrier is caused by low frequency radio communications "interacting with particles in space, which results in a sort of shield protecting Earth from high energy radiation in space," Newsweek reports.
This, scientists say, is potentially very good news, as we could use the barrier to protect Earth from extreme space weather resulting from events like coronal mass ejections—huge explosions on the sun, where plasmas and magnetic field are ejected from its corona, the outermost part of its atmosphere. These ejections can result in geomagnetic storms, which have the potential to knock out communication satellites and power grids.
NASA scientists detected the barrier with the Van Allen Probes, which are designed to study electrons and ions in our new-space environment. Normally, very low frequency (VLF) signals from radio telescopes are transmitted from the ground and are used to communicate with submarines, deep below the surface of the ocean. However, they also end up going into the atmosphere.
The result is a massive “VLF bubble” enshrouding Earth, NASA said. The bubble can be seen high above Earth’s surface in the space environment surrounding it.
Further analysis showed the bubble extends almost exactly to the inner edge of Van Allen radiation belts. These three belts are zones of energetic charged particles that come from solar wind—the particles are then captured and held by Earth’s magnetic field. When the VLF bubble interacts with the radiation belts, it creates the barrier observed.
The researchers report that without the barrier, the radiation belt boundary would be far closer to Earth.
So, go humans!