Most of the time, NASA spends its days searching for and studying things in space that resulted from natural phenomena — like creepy valleys on Mars and vast oceans on Europa — but its newest discovery is quite different. In a new paper published in Space Science Reviews, researchers reveal the existence of a man-made “bubble” created by a specific type of radio communication technology. However, unlike most of the things humans have accidentally created on Earth, this peculiar shield could actually prove to be beneficial, as long as we know how to control it.
The bubble, which humanity has created without even realizing it, was VLF (very low frequency) radio communications. These types of signals have a long history, and were once used for long-range radio communication. Today, it is used largely in communicating with submarines, but the signals find their way into space as well. 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.
“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,” Phil Erickson, assistant director at MIT’s Haystack Observatory, said.
What’s particularly interesting is that, now that NASA knows that VLF signals have this power, they could be used to shield astronauts and satellites from spikes in radiation arriving to Earth from the sun. Hooray for happy accidents!