How Human War Affected the Weather in Space

NASA
NASA

Scientists reviewing newly declassified documents say that Cold War–era weapons tests disrupted the Earth's magnetic and electrical fields. They published their report in the journal Space Science Reviews.

For a very brief period from 1958 to 1962, both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. launched nuclear weapons into space to see what would happen. The weapons zoomed out into the blackness and detonated.

Stuff explodes in space all the time. Roughly 275 million stars die and are born every day. Our own Sun roils, burps, and flares, sending solar winds full of atomic particles toward us and the other planets in our system. And like a stone thrown into a stream, each event causes ripples in the flowing magnetic, electrical, and radiation fields nearby.

The nuclear tests made similar but unusual splashes.

The Teak test, launched over the North Pacific on August 1, 1958, produced charged particles that swept along Earth’s magnetic field into the sky above Western Samoa. That night, astronomers at the Apia Observatory saw an aurora—a sight not usually seen there.

The Argus tests, also in 1958, went higher than any test had before, sending particles zipping far off across the space above our planet, causing intense but brief magnetic storms in Arizona and Sweden.

Other tests produced radiation belts, and the resulting electrical disturbances damaged nearby satellites.

“The tests were a human-generated and extreme example of some of the space weather effects frequently caused by the Sun,” co-author Phil Erickson of MIT’s Haystack Observatory said in a statement.

“If we understand what happened in the 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."

Save Up to 93 Percent on 8 Gaming Accessories and Enter to Win a Free Nintendo Switch Bundle

Stackcommerce
Stackcommerce

The Nintendo Switch is one of the hottest video game consoles of the past few decades, with worldwide sales topping 55 million (that's more than the Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64, and it's only a few million behind the original NES). The problem with a console being so popular is that it's not always easy to spot one on store shelves. If you haven't had luck finding one in recent months, you can enter this contest to win your very own Nintendo Switch, along with a copy of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a pair of Switch-compatible Logitech wireless headphones, and a $300 Nintendo gift card. Head here for more details.

While you wait to see who wins, check out these other great deals on gaming accessories.

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Same as above, except this model charges two pairs of Joy-Cons at once. The easy-to-read red LED light lets you know it’s working, and the green lets you know it’s time to play.

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A Nintendo Gamecube controller is still the best way to play any of the Super Smash Bros. titles, and with this adapter, you can use the old-school controllers on the Wii U or Nintendo Switch for an easy way to dive into multiplayer games. It also works for PC gaming.

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Prices subject to change.

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100 Fascinating Facts About Earth

The best Spaceball.
The best Spaceball.
NASA

Did you know that there’s a place in the South Pacific Ocean called Point Nemo that’s farther from land than any other point on Earth? So far, in fact, that the closest humans are usually astronauts aboard the International Space Station. (And by the way: The map you’re about to look for Point Nemo on might not be entirely accurate; a certain amount of distortion occurs when trying to depict a 3D planet on a 2D surface.)

In this all-new episode of The List Show, Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy is journeying to the center of the Earth, and visiting its oceans, its atmosphere, and even space, in search of 100 facts about our endlessly fascinating planet.

The subjects that fall under the umbrella of “facts about Earth” are nearly as expansive as Earth itself. Geology, biology, astronomy, and cartography, are all fair game—and those are just a few of the many -ologies, -onomies, and -ographies you’ll learn about below. 

Press play to find out more Earth-shattering facts, and subscribe to the Mental Floss YouTube channel for more fact-filled videos here.