About nine hours east of Moscow, where the Sura River meets the Volga, there’s an ex-Soviet laboratory pumping high-frequency radio waves into the upper atmosphere.
As the waves reach the ionosphere, they disrupt it in mysterious and unexplained ways, forming artificial plasma ducts and heating the ions and electrons that form this atmospheric region.
It sounds like the opening to an apocalyptic blockbuster, but experiments like these aren’t unusual. Northeast of Anchorage, Alaska, the US has its own facility, the High-Frequency Active Auroral Research Program or HAARP. These days, the research station belongs to the University of Alaska Fairbanks, but for nearly a quarter of a century it was the property of the US Air Force and Navy, bombarding the atmosphere with radio waves in the search for new or improved military applications.
This is because the ionosphere plays an important role in communication. Ionized particles reflect radio waves sent from Earth and can disrupt signals from satellites – control the ionosphere, and you can potentially cut off your enemies’ access to information. It’s no surprise, therefore, that it’s been a priority for military forces – as well as the source of quite a few conspiracy theories – around the world.
So the news that Russian and Chinese scientists have been collaborating on a project to do just that has understandably turned some heads. As reported by the South China Morning Post, five experiments were carried out in the Russian skies over a period of 11 days in June this year, sending high-frequency waves into the atmosphere with enough power to light a small city.
“We are not playing God,” one researcher promised the Post. “We are not the only country teaming up with the Russians. Other countries have done similar things.”
In a paper published this month in the journal Earth and Planetary Physics, researchers from the Institute of Earthquake Forecasting in Beijing and the Russian Radiophysical Research Institute described how the in-orbit China Seismo‐Electromagnetic Satellite (CSES) was directed to monitor a series of high-frequency radio waves sent into the ionosphere from the Russian Sura research lab.