Experiments by China and Russia to heat up the atmosphere cause concern

Superpowers team up to heat up the ionosphere by over 200 degrees.

  • Russian scientists emitted a large amount of high-frequency radio waves into the ionosphere.
  • A Chinese satellite studied the data from orbit.
  • Potential military applications of this tech raise alarms.

A series of controversial experiments by Russia and China recently came to light, drawing concern from experts over their potential military applications. A newly published paper shows that in June 2018, Russian scientists emitted high-frequency radio waves in order to affect the ionosphere - the ionized section of Earth's upper atmosphere that reaches from 50 to 600 miles above. They were able to heat it up by about 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit) while also causing a massive electric spike.

The ionosphere is used for military communication (specifically between submarines) and disrupting it can cut off the opposing side from its satellites. Critics of experiments in the high atmosphere warn they could lead to modifying weather and creating natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes.

The particulars of the new studies involved "a large amount of microwaves" being sent into the high atmosphere from the Russian atmospheric heating facility called Sura, as reports the South China Morning Post. This facility, near the town of Vasilsursk, to the east of Moscow, was built during the Cold War. Meanwhile, in a precisely coordinated effort, Zhangheng-1, a Chinese electromagnetic surveillance satellite, studied the resulting effects on plasma disturbance from orbit.

High-power antennas at the Sura atmospheric heating facility in Vasilsursk, Russia. Photo: Handout.

There was a total of five experiments performed. One conducted on June 7th, 2018 created a "physical disturbance" that affected an area of 126,000 sq km (49,000 square miles), which is "about half the size of Britain." The zone of the experiment, about 310 miles above Vasilsursk, also saw an electric spike that had "10 times more negatively charged subatomic particles than surrounding regions," tells the Chinese paper.

The June 12th experiment resulted in raising the temperate of ionized gas in the atmosphere by more than 100 degrees Celsius as a result of bombarding it by electrons.

The base at Sura employed an array of high-powered antennas to conduct the research. The peak power output of its high frequency radio waves could go up to 260 megawatts. That's enough juice to power a small city.

Zhangheng-1 satellite. Photo: handout

While the details of their studies warrant attention, the researchers involved are downplaying their military application, saying the results were "satisfactory" with the observations of plasma disturbances providing the basis for the "success of future related experiments," as wrote the scientists.

China is actually building a larger, more advanced facility in Sanya, Hainan. It will have the capability to manipulate the ionosphere over the whole area of the South China Sea. Not to be outdone, the U.S. has its own powerful High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP), built in the 1990s.

You can check out the new research paper published in the Chinese journal Earth and Planetary Physics.

The 4 types of thinking talents: Analytic, procedural, relational and innovative

Understanding thinking talents in yourself and others can build strong teams and help avoid burnout.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to collaborate within a team and identify "thinking talent" surpluses – and shortages.
  • Angie McArthur teaches intelligent collaboration for Big Think Edge.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Do you have a self-actualized personality? Maslow revisited

Rediscovering the principles of self-actualisation might be just the tonic that the modern world is crying out for.

Personal Growth

Abraham Maslow was the 20th-century American psychologist best-known for explaining motivation through his hierarchy of needs, which he represented in a pyramid. At the base, our physiological needs include food, water, warmth and rest.

Keep reading Show less

Scientists reactivate cells from 28,000-year-old woolly mammoth

"I was so moved when I saw the cells stir," said 90-year-old study co-author Akira Iritani. "I'd been hoping for this for 20 years."

Yamagata et al.
Surprising Science
  • The team managed to stimulate nucleus-like structures to perform some biological processes, but not cell division.
  • Unless better technology and DNA samples emerge in the future, it's unlikely that scientists will be able to clone a woolly mammoth.
  • Still, studying the DNA of woolly mammoths provides valuable insights into the genetic adaptations that allowed them to survive in unique environments.
Keep reading Show less

Believe in soulmates? You're more likely to 'ghost' romantic partners.

Does believing in true love make people act like jerks?

Thought Catalog via Unsplash
Sex & Relationships
  • Ghosting, or cutting off all contact suddenly with a romantic partner, is not nice.
  • Growth-oriented people (who think relationships are made, not born) do not appreciate it.
  • Destiny-oriented people (who believe in soulmates) are more likely to be okay with ghosting.
Keep reading Show less