Instead of falling to the dozer blade, the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program has new life.
In mid-August, U.S. Air Force General Tom Masiello shook hands with UAF’s Brian Rogers and Bob McCoy, transferring the powerful upper-atmosphere research facility from the military to the university.
You may have heard of HAARP.
Nick Begich wrote a book about it. Jesse Ventura tried to bully his way past the Gakona gate during a TV episode of Conspiracy Theory. Muse recorded a live album, HAARP, at Wembley Stadium from a stage filled with antennas meant to resemble those standing on a gravel pad off the Tok Cutoff Road.
The science-fiction assertions of caribou walking backwards, human mind control and HAARP’s ability to change the weather have made researchers wince. It’s hard to describe a complicated instrument that sends invisible energy into a zone no one can see.
HAARP is a group of high-frequency radio transmitters powered by four diesel tugboat generators and one from a locomotive. The transmitters send a focused beam of radio-wave energy into the aurora zone. There, that energy can stimulate a speck of the electrical sun-Earth connection about 100 miles above our heads.
Why did university higher-ups swing the door back open for the conspiracy theorists? Why not let HAARP go quietly back to boreal forest?
“Even though it’s esoteric and hard to understand, it’s the best,” said Bob McCoy, head of UAF’s Geophysical Institute, which now has the keys to the complex, located off mile 11.3 of the Tok Cutoff Road.
The facility is the best tool to study a region above Earth we know little about, McCoy said. Of three such ionospheric heaters in the world – in Norway, Russia and soon-to-be in Puerto Rico – HAARP is the “most powerful and agile of the three,” according to Craig Heinselman, director of the facility in Norway.
At an interview in his office on the UAF campus, McCoy said meetings with others in the space physics community convinced him HAARP was worth saving. During a 2013 workshop with potential users who study the shell of ionized plasma that coats the planet from 40 to 600 miles over our heads, researchers said they would use HAARP if the university took it over.
“(With HAARP), it is now possible to conduct controlled experiments, versus simply watching and waiting for the sun to perturb space and attempting to learn from studying its response,” Herbert Carlson of Utah State University said during the workshop.
What’s to be gained from perturbing space? The ionosphere carries satellite and radio signals that are disturbed during solar storms.
“With heat, we can create a disturbance and watch how quickly it dissipates,” said Bill Bristow, a space physicist and the Geophysical Institute’s point man on HAARP. “We can generate irregularities to test the effects on satellite to ground radio systems. We don’t have to wait for Mother Nature to generate conditions.”
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