May 19, 2017

A man-made barrier is surrounding and protecting Earth

NASA/AP

NASA probes found a human-made "barrier" is surrounding Earth and protecting the planet from space weather, according to a report published in Science Space Review. The barrier can form when very low frequency (VLF) radio waves — largely used for submarine communications and scientific studies — interact with particles in space.

Why it matters: Earth is bombarded with intense radiation and energy ejected from the sun that can sometimes disrupt satellite communications and power grids. Scientists plan to investigate whether ultimately they could purposely use VLF signals to push this excess radiation farther away from Earth.

The discovery: Researchers found that the barrier, which forms under certain conditions, has actually been pushing Earth's Van Allen radiation belts away for decades. Using satellite data, they compared the inner edge of those belts today vs. in the 1960s when there were fewer VLF communications, and discovered the inner edge is farther away today.

Two quick things:

  • VLF communications are weaker frequencies usually used to transfer coded messages across long distances or under deep water, but their use has evolved over the last 50 years.
  • Earth's two Van Allen belts are collections of charged particles, largely from solar winds, trapped in rings by the planet's magnetic field. The inner belt sits 400 to 6,000 miles above Earth's surface and the outer is 8,400 to 36,000 miles above.

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Coronavirus kills 2 Diamond Princess passengers and South Korea sees first death

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. U.S. numbers include Americans extracted from Princess Cruise ship.

Two elderly Diamond Princess passengers have been killed by the novel coronavirus — the first deaths confirmed among the more than 600 infected aboard the cruise ship. South Korea also announced its first death Thursday.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed more than 2,200 people and infected over 75,465 others, mostly in mainland China, where the National Health Commission announced 118 new deaths since Thursday.

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SoftBank to cut its stake to get T-Mobile's Sprint deal done

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

T-Mobile and Sprint announced a revised merger agreement that will see SoftBank getting a smaller share of the combined company, while most shareholders will receive the previously agreed upon exchange rate. The companies said they hope to get the deal as early as April 1.

Why it matters: The amended deal reflects the decline in Sprint's business, while leaving most shareholders' stake intact and removing another hurdle to the deal's closure.