Barrier discovered circling planet created by man-made radio waves

I used to watch a science fiction show on TV called Amazing Stories while growing up back in the mid- to late-1980s.

The show was created by Steven Spielberg.

I still remember an episode called “Fine Tuning” where a student was working on creating a souped-up television antenna so that he could pick up signals form half a world away. While he and his buddies were messing with the antenna, they accidentally crossed wires and after a lot of sparks, they started picking up a television signal from another far-away planet. The funny part of this was that the signal they received was an alien version of “I Love Lucy.” The aliens had apparently been watching television broadcasts being transmitted from earth and mocking them.

MORE: Check out Skywitness7 for what’s going on in the night sky

So why am I telling you this story? Because of a recent, amazing discovery from NASA.

No, NASA has not picked up a television signal from another world, but they have found that radio waves from Earth have created a barrier around our planet. This human-made barrier, which was detected by NASA’s Van Allen probes, was created by the interaction between man-made very low frequency (VLF) radio waves and charged particles in space.

VLF signals are transmitted from ground stations at huge powers to communicate with submarines deep in the ocean. While these waves are intended for communications below the surface, they also extend out beyond our atmosphere, shrouding Earth in a VLF bubble. This bubble is even seen by spacecraft high above Earth’s surface, such as NASA’s Van Allen Probes, which study electrons and ions in the near-Earth environment. The VLF radio waves have been found to interact with particles in space, affecting how and where they move.

NASA says this interplay can, when conditions are right, create a de facto barrier that can block high energy particle radiation from hitting the Earth coming from the sun in a solar storm. The probes also noticed an interesting coincidence — the outward extent of the VLF bubble corresponds almost exactly to the inner edge of the Van Allen radiation belts, a layer of charged particles held in place by Earth’s magnetic fields.


So what does all this mean?

Well, now that scientists have figured this out, NASA says it intends to test the shield by intentionally blasting VLF radio waves into the upper atmosphere to see if they can purposefully manipulate the field. If they can, the human-created barrier could theoretically be strengthened to better protect Earth from solar storms, which can wreak havoc on most modern technology.

So, while we still haven’t detected any communications from another planet (that we know of), you must admit it is fascinating how radio waves we use to communicate in the depths of the ocean are reaching into space and may be protecting our planet from harmful radiation. That would certainly be an amazing story! And who knows, maybe those radio signals will be detected by someone listening from another planet?

Eric Elwell is WHIO StormCenter 7 Chief Meteorologist. Contact him at or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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