An antenna field in Alaska that’s spawned no shortage of conspiracy theories has been carrying out a series of experiments that include sending radio signals to the Moon and Jupiter and waiting for pings back.
The High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) kicked off a 10-day science campaign that ran through October 28. On the agenda were 13 experiments that are pushing the limits of what the facility can do. “The October research campaign is our largest and most diverse to date, with researchers and citizen scientists collaborating from across the globe,” Jessica Matthews, HAARP’s program manager, said in a release.
HAARP is made up of 180 high-frequency antennas, each standing at 72 feet tall, stretched across 33 acres near Gakona, Alaska. The research facility transmits radio beams toward Earth’s ionosphere, the ionized part of the atmosphere that’s located about 50 to 400 miles (80 to 600 kilometers) above Earth’s surface. The ionosphere is filled with electrically charged particles, a result of being blasted by solar energy. HAARP sends radio signals to the ionosphere and waits to see how they return, in an effort to measure the disturbances caused by the Sun, among other things.
In one recent experiment, known as the “Moon Bounce,” a group of researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Owens Valley Radio Observatory, and the University of New Mexico transmitted a signal from the HAARP antennas in Alaska to the Moon and then waited to receive a reflected signal back at the observatory sites in California and New Mexico.
The purpose of the experiment is to study how the three facilities in Alaska, California, and New Mexico can work together for the future observations of near-Earth asteroids. The facility may be able to transmit a signal to an asteroid flying by Earth and receive a signal back that will hint at the space rock’s composition.
Another experiment sent a radio beam to Jupiter, currently located about 374 million miles (600 million kilometers) from Earth. The hope is that the beam would reflect off Jupiter’s ionosphere and then be received at the New Mexico site.
The Jupiter experiment is run by the John Hopkins Applied Physics Labarotory and aims to provide a new way of observing the ionospheres of other planets. Considering how far Jupiter is from Earth, this experiment is a true test of HAARP’s signal-transmitting capabilities.
Another experiment is more on the artsy side. “Ghosts in the Air Glow” beamed video, images, spoken word, and sound art to the ionosphere and waited for the signal to bounce back to test the transitional boundary of the atmosphere.
HAARP was originally a project of the U.S. Air Force to study solar flares, which can disrupt Earth’s communications and electric grid. But in 2015, the Air Force decided it was no longer interested in maintaining HAARP, and ownership transferred to the University of Alaska. While it was under the purview of the Air Force, HAARP inspired some wild conspiracy theories, including that its antennas were being used to alter the weather, create deadly hurricanes, and even control minds.