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.

Go deeper

World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

Japan's economy minister outlined plans on Monday to end the nationwide state of emergency as the number of new novel coronavirus cases continues to decline to less than 50 a day, per Bloomberg. Japan has reported 16,550 cases and 820 deaths.

By the numbers: Over 5.4 million people have tested positive for the virus as of Monday, and more than 2.1 million have recovered. The U.S. has reported the most cases in the world (over 1.6 million from 13.7 million tests). The U.K. is reporting over 36,800 deaths from the coronavirus — the most fatalities outside the U.S.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of midnight ET: 5,401,701 — Total deaths: 345,060 — Total recoveries — 2,149,407Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of midnight ET: 1,643,238 — Total deaths: 97,720 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,195Map.
  3. World: White House announces travel restrictions on Brazil, coronavirus hotspot in Southern Hemisphere Over 100 coronavirus cases in Germany tied to single day of church services — Boris Johnson backs top aide amid reports that he broke U.K. lockdown while exhibiting symptoms.
  4. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks headed into Memorial Day weekend Report finds "little evidence" coronavirus under control in most statesHurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID-19 response
  5. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Public employees brace for layoffs.
  6. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

President Trump doubled down on his push to reopen schools, tweeting late Sunday: "Schools in our country should be opened ASAP."

Zoom in: Trump pushed back on NIAD Director Anthony Fauci cautioning against the move earlier this month, calling his concerns "not an acceptable answer."