Space and Physics

There Is An Artificial Barrier Surrounding Our Planet


Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockMay 18 2017, 19:23 UTC

Artist's impression of the bubble with the Van Allen Belt. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Genna Duberstein

We have accidentally created a barrier around our planet, and while it might not be a futuristic force field, it is still damn cool.


NASA researchers have discovered that certain radio communications, known as VLF (very low frequency), are capable of interacting with particles in space, moving them in certain directions. We know we can affect the space weather around our planet, but this discovery might lead to ways that we could actually manipulate it. The study is published in Space Science Reviews.

“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,” said co-author Phil Erickson, assistant director at the MIT Haystack Observatory, in a statement.

The study is a comprehensive review on the human effects around our planet. It discusses the impact of high-altitude nuclear tests, chemical release experiments, and high-frequency wave heating in the ionosphere. The review goes into the physics behind all those events and reveals the latest analysis of the VLF interaction.

Earth is surrounded by regions filled with charged particles, known as the Van Allen Belts. It was traditionally assumed that there were two such regions, but it turns out that the picture is a lot more complex. They are a consequence of Earth’s magnetic field and act as an almost impenetrable barrier, keeping the most energetic electrons from reaching our planet.


Using data from NASA’s Van Allen Probe, the researchers have discovered that the VLF-induced bubble extends up to the inner edge of the Van Allen Belt and not further. The team speculate that the VLF bubble is pushing the Van Allen Belt outwards.

This idea is strengthened by data from the 1960s, which shows the Van Allen Belt to be much closer to our planet than it currently is. Back then, VLF transmissions were a lot more limited, which could explain the difference. The researchers speculate that if there were no VLF, the boundary would stretch closer to Earth.

The team suggests that with further study, we might discover if we can remove excess particles from lower Earth’s orbit. This might help during extreme space weather events that might damage satellites and other instruments.


There are already plans in place to test VLF from higher in the atmosphere to see exactly what we can achieve with them.

Space and Physics
  • space weather,

  • Van Allen belt,

  • very low frequency radio waves