The cold war between the United States and USSR that was conducted to tests high-altitude nuclear explosion 250 miles above the surface lasted for 45 years. According to the new study, the tests activated the changes in Earth’s magnetic environment similar to those resulting from naturally-occurring space weather, when the sun gives out high-energy particles streaming towards the magnetosphere. It has also caused a commotion. Cold War-era tests upsurged temporary radiation belts around the Earth and gave rise to artificial auroras that are visible on the equators and not on the poles.
Earth is surrounded by Van Allen radiation belts zones of highly charged particles. It has caused major damages to several satellites that were orbiting at a lower altitude and the electrical grids on the ground. These high-altitude explosions created an ‘extreme example’ of wonders caused by the sun. The tests were associated with the strained utility grids in Hawaii and satellite disturbance.
Space weather, a phenomenon in which radiation and high-energy particles from the sun constantly interact with the geomagnetic field of the Earth. The test first created a massive, expanding fireball of plasma followed by geomagnetic disturbance. These disturbances slanted Earth’s magnetic field lines thus creating an electric field. This helped the space agencies to think how to protect astronauts in Low Earth Orbit.
Co-author Phile Erickson, an assistant director at MIT’s Haystack Observatory said, “The tests were a human-generated and extreme example of some of the space weather effects frequently caused by the sun. If we come to know what exactly happened in somewhat controlled and extreme event that was caused by one of these man-made events, we can more easily understand the natural variation in the near-space environment.”
The tests caused geomagnetic storms detected from Sweden all the way to Arizona, with two high-speed waves of particles traveling at the speed of 1,860 miles per second and almost 500 miles per second.