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How Humans Change Space Itself

How Humans Change Space Itself

It’s no surprise that humans influence the surface of our planet, but our reach can go farther than that. Humans affect space, too.

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We know storms from the sun can naturally change the space environment around Earth, which can have an impact on satellites and power grids.

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Scientists now know that Cold War era nuclear tests in the 1950s caused similar effects.

Particles around Earth are organized into layers known as radiation belts. These 1950s tests created a temporary extra layer of radiation closer to Earth. 

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The effects of this could be seen all around the world. Aurora appeared at the equator instead of the poles, utility grids in Hawaii were strained, and in some cases, satellites above test sites were affected. 

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Some types of communications signals can also affect Earth’s radiation belts. 

Very low-frequency waves, or VLFs, are used for radio communications. They are often used to communicate with submarines, because these waves can penetrate deep into the ocean. 

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The waves can also travel far into the space environment around Earth. When these waves are in space, they affect how high-energy particles move, creating a barrier against natural radiation.

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The outer edge of this radio-wave barrier corresponds almost exactly the inner edge of Earth’s natural radiation belts – meaning it could be human activity that at least partly shapes this natural radiation around Earth.  

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