Thursday, May 18, 2017

Changing Our Environment

We hear a lot about how humans keep changing the environment in bad ways - but it turns out we may have accidentally done something quite useful.

VLF radio communications are used to keep touch with submarines underwater. Not something most of us think about in our day to day lives.

The reason this form of radio is used to talk to subs is that it's very powerful - and thus can punch through layers of insulating seawater. The side effect is that it also goes a good way out into the atmosphere.

And NASA has now discovered that this is creating a VLF "bubble" around the planet, pushing the Van Allen belts higher. If you don't know, the Van Allen radiation belt protects Earth's atmosphere from cosmic ways and such. The bubble is preventing the charged particles of the Van Allen belt from dipping lower.

So, how is this useful?

It could also keep other charged particles from reaching the planet's surface. Like those from solar flares. In other words, we could have, completely by accident, stumbled on a way to make sure a major solar flare does not take out power for millions for possibly months.

And here's another intriguing thought.

One of the big issues with a space elevator is the damage to passengers that might be caused by an extended traverse through the Van Allen belts.

But if VLF keeps out those kinds of charged particles, a sheath around the tether or a bubble around the climber could be used to protect passengers and fragile cargo...solving one of the major engineering problems of the endeavor.