Our Cold War history is now offering scientists a chance to better understand the complex space system that surrounds us.
NASA scientists say it's possible that the radiation barrier could be used to remove excess radiation from the area surrounding Earth, and tests are planned to determine whether this is possible. These are all names of nuclear tests the US ran in the 1950s and '60s. The tests have long since ended, and the goals at the time were military.
They do have to be concerned about cumulative exposure during space walks.
"The tests were a human-generated and extreme example of some of the space weather effects frequently caused by the sun", said Phil Erickson, assistant director at MIT's Haystack Observatory, Westford, Massachusetts, and co-author on the paper. The charged particles can also threaten airlines by disturbing the Earth's magnetic field. Most of the charged particles are deflected, but some make their way into near-Earth space and can impact our satellites by damaging onboard electronics and disrupting communications or navigation signals.
This first created a massive, expanding fireball of plasma, followed by geomagnetic disturbance. Researchers recently discovered that the particles from nuclear tests were lofted into belts circling the Earth, causing geomagnetic storms and even damaging a few satellites.
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In another plot twist, it seems that this bubble, which ends just at the inner edge of the Van Allen Belts, may actually provide Earth with an additional layer of protection against particle radiation coming from space, deflecting other types of harmful radiation. The artificially trapped charged particles remained in significant numbers for weeks, and in one case, years.
Some even failed as a result, NASA explains. When they do so, researchers realized that they have the power to affect the radiation bombarding Earth from space by creating a shield of sorts that repels it. Radiation around Earth isn't odd in and of itself, as the Van Allen Belts are the loci of strong radiation surrounding our planet. The Teak test, which took place on August 1, 1958, was notable for the artificial aurora that resulted.
SEE MORE: You Can Now Watch Declassified Nuclear Weapons Tests. The radiation released from Argus alone caused an flurry of geomagnetic storms over Sweden and Arizona, according to the new study.
Atmospheric nuclear tests are no longer allowed, and those artificial radiation belts are long gone.