China and Russia have modified an important layer of atmosphere across Europe to test a controversial technology for possible military application, according to Chinese researchers involved in the project.
In total, five experiments were conducted in June. On June 7, physical disruption caused an area as large as 126,000 square kilometers, or about half of Britain.
The modified zone, which was over 500 km high over Vasilsursk, a small Russian city in Eastern Europe, experienced an electric nail with 10 times more negatively charged subatomic particles than surrounding areas.
In another experiment on June 1
The particles or electrons were pumped to the sky by Sura, an atmospheric heating plant in Vasilsursk built by the former Soviet Union military during the Cold War.
The Sura base fired a set of high quality antennas and injected a large amount of microwaves into the high atmosphere. The highest frequency of high frequency radio waves can reach 260 megawatts, enough to light a small town.
Zhangheng-1, a Chinese electromagnetic surveillance satellite, collected data from orbits with groundbreaking sensors. The pumping and flight required precise coordination to achieve effective measurement.
For example, when Zhangheng approached the target zone, the sensors would switch to burst mode to analyze samples every half a second, much faster than usual, to increase the data resolution.
The results were "satisfactory", the research group reported in a paper published in the latest issue of the Chinese journal Earth and Planetary Physics .
"The discovery of plasma disorders … provides evidence of probable success for future related experiments," the researchers say.
Professor Guo Lixin, Dean of Physics School and Optoelectronic Engineering at Xidian University in Xian and a leading researcher on ionosphere manipulation technology in China, said the joint experiment was extremely unusual.
"Such international cooperation is very rare for China," said Guo, who was not involved in the experiment. "The technology involved is too sensitive."
The sun and cosmic rays produce a large amount of free-flowing, positively charged atoms known as ions in heights from 75 km to 1000 km in the Earth's upper atmosphere. The layer or ionosphere reflects radio waves as a mirror. The ionosphere allows radio signals to bounce long distances for communication.
The military has been in a competition to control the ionosphere for decades.
The Sura base in Vasilsursk is believed to be the world's first large-scale facility built for the purpose. Up to and including 1981, it allowed Soviet scientists to manipulate the sky as an instrument of military operations, such as submarine communication.
High energy microwaves can pick the electromagnetic field in the ionosphere as fingers that play a harp. This can produce very low frequency radio signals that can penetrate into the ground or water – sometimes to depths of more than 100 meters in the sea, making it a possible method of communication for submarines.
Changing the ionosphere over enemy territory can also interfere with or interrupt its communication with satellites.
The US military learned from the Russian experiment and built a much larger facility to perform similar tests.
The High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, or HAARP, was founded in Gakona, Alaska, in the 1990s with US military and defense research project funding.
The HAARP plant could generate a maximum of 1 gigawatts of power, almost four times as much as Sura.
China is now building an even larger and more advanced plant in Sanya, Hainan, capable of manipulating the ionosphere across the South China Sea, according to a previous report by South China Morning Post .
It has been concerned that such facilities can be used to modify weather and even create natural disasters, including hurricanes, cyclones and earthquakes.
But Dr. Wang Yalu, an associate researcher with the earthquake management in China who participated in the June study, dismissed such theories.
"We just do pure scientific research. If there is anything else involved, I'm not informed about this," she said in an interview.
The earthquake administration was involved because Zhangheng-1, launched in February, was the first Chinese satellite to retrieve precursor signals related to earthquakes. It is run by the Chinese military and has served both civil and defense use.
In the Chinese and Russian experiments, researchers found that even with a small power of 30 MW, the radio beam could create a large abnormal zone. But they also found that the effects fell sharply after the sunrise, because the man-made disturbance easily disappeared in the sound created by sunlight.
"We do not play God. We are not the only country that is united with the Russians. Other countries have done similar things," said another researcher involved in the project and asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of problem.
Sura plant has also conducted joint research with France and the United States, according to papers published in academic journals.
The National Center for Space Studies, a French authority under the supervision of the Defense and Research Ministries, has used the Demeter micro-satellite to monitor Sora's radio emissions.
The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, run by the United States Defense Department, also contributed with fly-by data in several warm-up trials conducted at the Russian site before 2012.
Countries were willing to cooperate in part because many scientific and technical problems continue resolved, the Chinese researcher said.
For example, but there is general agreement that human disturbances can cause irregularities, how they happened and why is a topic of discussion, with various research groups that provide different explanations.
Professor Gong Shuhong, a military communications technology researcher at Xidian University, formerly the Radio Military Committee of the Central Military Committee, said he had followed closely experimentation between Russia and China.
"The energy released was too low to trigger a global environmental event," he said. "The human influence is still very small compared to the power of power. But the impact on a small region is possible."
In theory, a butterfly clapping the wings can be reinforced in a sophisticated weather and causing a storm in a remote location several weeks later.
"Such studies must strictly adhere to ethical guidelines," Gong said. "Whatever they do, it must not hurt the people living on this planet."