Earth has its own 'Star Trek'-like force field, study suggests

A cloud of charged gas around Earth, the plasmasphere, interacts with particles in Earth's radiation belts to create a barrier.

Story highlights

  • An invisible shield has been discovered 7,200 miles above Earth
  • The shield blocks what are known as "killer electrons"
  • Discovery challenges existing theories of how killer electrons are held at bay
The University of Colorado Boulder has announced a discovery 7,200 miles above Earth of a protective shield similar to the force fields you might see in "Star Trek."
The discovery of this barrier in the Van Allen radiation belts suggests a new explanation for how "killer electrons" are held at bay. This invisible shield, which was found at the inner edge of the outer Van Allen belt, protects against high-energy electrons, which have the potential to fry satellites, threaten astronauts and degrade space systems during intense solar storms.
"It's almost like these electrons are running into a glass wall in space," said Daniel Baker, director of CU-Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space.
"Somewhat like the shields created by force fields on 'Star Trek' that were used to repel alien weapons, we are seeing an invisible shield blocking these electrons. It's an extremely puzzling phenomenon."
The phenomenon challenges existing theories that these electrons drift into the upper atmosphere and are destroyed by air molecules.
"It's like looking at the phenomenon with new eyes, with a new set of instrumentation, which give us the detail to say, 'Yes, there is this hard, fast boundary,' " said John Foster, associate director of MIT's Haystack Observatory and a study co-author.
Does this have any potential for scientific innovation into force fields on Earth? Only time will tell, of course.