Method and apparatus for altering a region in the earth's atmosphere, ionosphere, and/or magnetosphere


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A method and apparatus for altering at least one selected region which normally exists above the earth's surface. The region is excited by electron cyclotron resonance heating to thereby increase its charged particle density. In one embodiment, circularly polarized electromagnetic radiation is transmitted upward in a direction substantially parallel to and along a field line which extends through the region of plasma to be altered. The radiation is transmitted at a frequency which excites electron cyclotron resonance to heat and accelerate the charged particles. This increase in energy can cause ionization of neutral particles which are then absorbed as part of the region thereby increasing the charged particle density of the region.
2. Background Art
In the late 1950's, it was discovered that naturally-occuring belts exist at high altitudes above the earth's surface, and it is now established that these belts result from charged electrons and ions becoming trapped along the magnetic lines of force (field lines) of the earth's essentially dipole magnetic field. The trapped electrons and ions are confined along the field lines between two magnetic mirrors which exist at spaced apart points along those field lines. The trapped electrons and ions move in helical paths around their particular field lines and "bounce" back and forth between the magnetic mirrors. These trapped electrons and ions can oscillate along the field lines for long periods of time.
In the past several years, substantial effort has been made to understand and explain the phenomena involved in belts of trapped electrons and ions, and to explore possible ways to control and use these phenomena for beneficial purposes. For example, in the late 1950's and early 1960's both the United States and U.S.S.R. detonated a series of nuclear devices of various yields to generate large numbers of charged particles at various altitudes, e.g., 200 kilometers (km) or greater. This was done in order to establish and study artifical belts of trapped electrons and ions. These experiments established that at least some of the extraneous electrons and ions from the detonated devices did become trapped along field lines in the earth's magnetosphere to form artificial belts which were stable for prolonged periods of time. For a discussion of these experiments see "The Radiation Belt and Magnetosphere", W. N. Hess, Blaisdell Publishing Co., 1968, pps. 155 et sec.
Other proposals which have been advanced for altering existing belts of trapped electrons and ions and/or establishing similar artificial belts include injecting charged particles from a satellite carrying a payload of radioactive beta-decay material or alpha emitters; and injecting charged particles from a satellite-borne electron accelerator. Still another approach is described in U.S. Pat. No. 4,042,196 wherein a low energy ionized gas, e.g., hydrogen, is released from a synchronous orbiting satellite near the apex of a radiation belt which is naturally-occurring in the earth's magnetosphere to produce a substantial increase in energetic particle precipitation and, under certain conditions, produce a limit in the number of particles that can be stably trapped. This precipitation effect arises from an enhancement of the whistler-mode and ion-cyclotron mode interactions that result from the ionized gas or "cold plasma" injection.
It has also been proposed to release large clouds of barium in the magnetosphere so that photoionization will increase the cold plasma density, thereby producing electron precipitation through enhanced whistler-mode interactions.
However, in all of the above-mentioned approaches, the mechanisms involved in triggering the change in the trapped particle phenomena must be actually positioned within the affected zone, e.g., the magnetosphere, before they can be actuated to effect the desired change.
The earth's ionosphere is not considered to be a "trapped" belt since there are few trapped particles therein. The term "trapped" herein refers to situations where the force of gravity on the trapped particles is balanced by magnetic forces rather than hydrostatic or collisional forces. The charged electrons and ions in the ionosphere also follow helical paths around magnetic field lines within the ionosphere but are not trapped between mirrors, as in the case of the trapped belts in the magnetosphere, since the gravitational force on the particles is balanced by collisional or hydrostatic forces.
In recent years, a number of experiments have actually been carried out to modify the ionosphere in some controlled manner to investigate the possibility of a beneficial result. For detailed discussions of these operations see the following papers: (1) Ionospheric Modification Theory; G. Meltz and F. W. Perkins; (2) The Platteville High Power Facility; Carrol et al.; (3) Arecibo Heating Experiments; W. E. Gordon and H. C. Carlson, Jr.; and (4) Ionospheric Heating by Powerful Radio Waves; Meltz et al., all published in Radio Science, Vol. 9, No. 11, November, 1974, at pages 885-888; 889-894; 1041-1047; and 1049-1063, respectively, all of which are incorporated herein by reference. In such experiments, certain regions of the ionosphere are heated to change the electron density and temperature within these regions. This is accomplished by transmitting from earth-based antennae high frequency electromagnetic radiation at a substantial angle to, not parallel to, the ionosphere's magnetic field to heat the ionospheric particles primarily by ohmic heating. The electron temperature of the ionosphere has been raised by hundreds of degrees in these experiments, and electrons with several electron volts of energy have been produced in numbers sufficient to enhance airglow. Electron concentrations have been reduced by a few percent, due to expansion of the plasma as a result of increased temperature.
In the Elmo Bumpy Torus (EBT), a controlled fusion device at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, all heating is provided by microwaves at the electron cyclotron resonance interaction. A ring of hot electrons is formed at the earth's surface in the magnetic mirror by a combination of electron cyclotron resonance and stochastic heating. In the EBT, the ring electrons are produced with an average "temperature" of 250 kilo electron volts or kev (2.5×109 K) and a plasma beta between 0.1 and 0.4; see, "A Theoretical Study of Electron--Cyclotron Absorption in Elmo Bumpy Torus", Batchelor and Goldfinger, Nuclear Fusion, Vol. 20, No. 4 (1980) pps. 403-418.
Electron cyclotron resonance heating has been used in experiments on the earth's surface to produce and accelerate plasmas in a diverging magnetic field. Kosmahl et al. showed that power was transferred from the electromagnetic waves and that a fully ionized plasma was accelerated with a divergence angle of roughly 13 degrees. Optimum neutral gas density was 1.7×1014 per cubic centimeter; see, "Plasma Acceleration with Microwaves Near Cyclotron Resonance", Kosmahl et al., Journal of Applied Physics, Vol. 38, No. 12, Nov., 1967, pps. 4576-4582.
The present invention provides a method and apparatus for altering at least one selected region which normally exists above the earth's surface. The region is excited by electron cyclotron resonance heating of electrons which are already present and/or artifically created in the region to thereby increase the charged particle energy and ultimately the density of the region.
In one embodiment this is done by transmitting circularly polarized electromagnetic radiation from the earth's surface at or near the location where a naturally-occurring dipole magnetic field (force) line intersects the earth's surface. Right hand circular polarization is used in the northern hemisphere and left hand circular polarization is used in the southern hemisphere. The radiation is deliberately transmitted at the outset in a direction substantially parallel to and along a field line which extends upwardly through the region to be altered. The radiation is transmitted at a frequency which is based on the gyrofrequency of the charged particles and which, when applied to the at least one region, excites electron cyclotron resonance within the region or regions to heat and accelerate the charged particles in their respective helical paths around and along the field line. Sufficient energy is employed to cause ionization of neutral particles (molecules of oxygen, nitrogen and the like, particulates, etc.) which then become a part of the region thereby increasing the charged particle density of the region. This effect can further be enhanced by providing artificial particles, e.g., electrons, ions, etc., directly into the region to be affected from a rocket, satellite, or the like to supplement the particles in the naturally-occurring plasma. These artificial particles are also ionized by the transmitted electromagnetic radiation thereby increasing charged particle density of the resulting plasma in the region.
In another embodiment of the invention, electron cyclotron resonance heating is carried out in the selected region or regions at sufficient power levels to allow a plasma present in the region to generate a mirror force which forces the charged electrons of the altered plasma upward along the force line to an altitude which is higher than the original altitude. In this case the relevant mirror points are at the base of the altered region or regions. The charged electrons drag ions with them as well as other particles that may be present. Sufficient power, e.g., 1015 joules, can be applied so that the altered plasma can be trapped on the field line between mirror points and will oscillate in space for prolonged periods of time. By this embodiment, a plume of altered plasma can be established at selected locations for communication modification or other purposes.
In another embodiment, this invention is used to alter at least one selected region of plasma in the ionosphere to establish a defined layer of plasma having an increased charged particle density. Once this layer is established, and while maintaining the transmission of the main beam of circularly polarized electromagnetic radiation, the main beam is modulated and/or at least one second different, modulated electromagnetic radiation beam is transmitted from at least one separate source at a different frequency which will be absorbed in the plasma layer. The amplitude of the frequency of the main beam and/or the second beam or beams is modulated in resonance with at least one known oscillation mode in the selected region or regions to excite the known oscillation mode to propagate a known frequency wave or waves throughout the ionosphere.
The actual construction, operation, and apparent advantages of this invention will be better understood by referring to the drawings in which like numerals identify like parts and in which:
FIG. 1 is a simplified schematical view of the earth (not to scale) with a magnetic field (force) line along which the present invention is carried out;
FIG. 2 is one embodiment within the present invention in which a selected region of plasma is raised to a higher altitude;
FIG. 3 is a simplified, idealized representation of a physical phenomenon involved in the present invention; and
FIG. 4 is a schematic view of another embodiment within the present invention.
FIG. 5 is a schematic view of an apparatus embodiment within this invention.