Artificial aurora lights-up arctic skies

US Naval Research Laboratory research project examines ionospheric phenomena and its impact on navigation, communications and space weather.

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It did not light up the sky like real aurora borealis can but researchers with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory said they have created an artificial version that can be used to explore ionospheric occurrences and their impact on communications, navigation and space weather.

Specifically what the researchers did was produce what they called a "sustained high density plasma cloud in Earth's upper atmosphere," using the 3.6-megawatt High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) transmitter facility, Gakona, Alaska.

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"Previous artificial plasma density clouds have lifetimes of only ten minutes or less," said Paul Bernhardt, Ph.D., NRL Space Use and Plasma Section in a statement. "This higher density plasma 'ball' was sustained over one hour by the HAARP transmissions and was extinguished only after termination of the HAARP radio beam."

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According to the lab, the HAARP transmitter creates plasma clouds, or balls of plasma, which are being studied for use as artificial mirrors at altitudes 50 kilometers below the natural ionosphere and are to be used for reflection of high frequency (HF) radar and communications signals.  The artificial plasma clouds are detected with HF radio soundings and backscatter, ultrahigh frequency (UHF) radar backscatter, and optical imaging systems, the lab stated. 

The test cloud in this case would glow green that could be seen by the naked eye but it was not anywhere near as impressive as a true aurora borealis light display.

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The tests are part of research sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and its program known as Basic Research on Ionospheric Characteristics and Effects (BRIOCHE) which it says explores the "physics of ionospheric storms, scintillations and other ionospheric effects over a broad range of optical and radio frequencies."

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