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Space Weather Events Can Be Linked To Human Activity, Scientists Say

First Posted: May 18, 2017 05:45 AM EDT
Space Weather
Tests from the Cold War still impacts space weather events today, according to scientists.
(Photo : NASA Goddard/YouTube screenshot)

Space weather, which usually includes changes in the magnetic environment of Earth, can usually be triggered by the activity of the Sun. While this explanation is accepted, it seems that there are other mechanisms that set off the said magnetic system, leading scientists to believe that humans can affect space.

In a Phys.org report, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. ran high-altitude tests for the military. These tests have long since ended but can still provide information as to how human can affect space.

Phil Erickson, co-author of the study published in Space Science Reviews, said that understanding what happened in the high-altitude nuclear explosions carried out by the U.S. and the Soviet Union created artificial radiation belts near Earth, resulting in major damages to several satellites. The unexpected impact of the tests could have a devastating effect over a geographic area as large as the continental United States.

While the radiation belts released by the Cold War tests are similar to the Earth's own radiation belts, their trapped particles have different energies. Energy particles released by these tests likely followed the magnetic field lines to Western Samoa, causing auroras.

A similar effect was seen by the Argus tests conducted at higher altitudes. Particles from the Argus test traveled further around the Earth, with sudden geomagnetic storms observed from Sweden to Arizona. Scientists used these storms to determine the speed at which particles traveled. However, they found that the geomagnetic effects of these materials only last a few seconds, as opposed to the man-made radiation belts, which have longer-lasting consequences.

NASA noted that atmospheric nuclear testing has long since ended. However, the current space environment needs to consider such events to allow scientists and engineers to understand the negative effects of space weather in the modern society's infrastructure and technical systems.

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