The High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program, or HAARP, has been called a missile-defense tool and a mind-control device. The truth is a bit less ominous
Posted 06.18.2008 at 2:36 pm
Northern Exposure: With HAARP, an antenna array located 200 miles north of Anchorage, Alaska, scientists study the outer atmosphere by zapping it with radio waves generated by 3,600 kilowatts of electricity. Appropriately, it has a great view of the aurora borealis. U.S. Naval Research Laboratory
If the paranoid blogosphere is to be believed, every morning a group of plasma-physics grad students wakes up at a research facility in Gakona, Alaska, 200 miles north of Anchorage, and prepares for another day of playing God. It’s cold, dark as a mineshaft in winter, and the day’s work does little to cheer the mood. Depending on the unpredictable agendas of military scientists, this group of technicians must shoot radio waves into the upper reaches of our atmosphere to create missile shields, eviscerate enemy satellites, set off the occasional earthquake, or control the minds of millions of people.
Skywave Propogation: Radio waves travel in straight lines, but the Earth isn’t flat, so sending radio signals to the other side of the world is tricky. HAARP’s findings could lead to ways to extend the range of radio signals by creating irregularities in the ionosphere that would bounce signals across long distances. Paul Wootton
The truth is, though, that the High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program, or HAARP—the 180-antenna array that became fully operational last year when the defense-systems contractor BAE finished installing transmitters—is nothing more sinister than a research station. And now, 15 years after construction on the station began, HAARP’s managers are seeing what the fully powered system can do; most recently, they’ve begun zapping the moon with the hope of determining the composition of its soil. “It’s up, it runs, it performs beautifully,” says Ed Kennedy, the former HAARP program manager for the Naval Research Lab. “HAARP is a great example of a project that from start to finish stayed on schedule and on budget.”
HAARP’s purpose is to study the ionosphere (the section of the atmosphere beginning about 50 miles up in which ultraviolet radiation temporarily strips atoms of their electrons), the magnetosphere (the region in space above the ionosphere where the Earth’s magnetic field affects the behavior of charged particles) and the Van Allen radiation belts (bands of highly charged particles contained in the magnetosphere beginning some 400 miles up). Scientists are interested in the ionosphere because of its ability to affect radio signals; the Van Allen belt, because the radiation there damages satellites, and a better understanding of it could lead to ways to make satellites last longer. “It’s an open plasma-physics laboratory,” says Dennis Papadopoulos, a physics professor at the University of Maryland who helped conceive the idea for HAARP with the Naval Research Lab more than 30 years ago. “You test ideas and scientific theories. Then, if something’s important to the Department of Defense, you apply it.”