One of the most wide-spread conspiracy theories of recent years has concerned a radio-frequency facility in a remote part of Alaska, started by the military in 1993 and known by its acronym HAARP. Critics allege the government was trying to control the weather or even people’s minds. Scientists who worked there say the fears are completely unfounded, though, and they now are fighting to preserve the project from being shut down.
The late inventor Nikola Tesla, whose ideas and designs contributed to our modern electricity supply system, claimed it is possible to send power through the air.
Dennis Papadopoulos, a Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Maryland, said Tesla was a genius.
“He had a lot of wonderful ideas. About 10 percent were great and the 90 percent ended up being crack-pottish,” said Papadopoulos.
Sure, we can send some power through the air, that is how we listen to the radio, watch TV and talk through mobile phones, but radio waves deteriorate with distance, and even more so when they pass through water. That is one of the reasons the U.S. military began the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, or HAARP.
The 12-hectare facility has rows of towering antennas, 180 in all, each with a transmitter. Together, they can send up to 3.6 million watts into the ionosphere, the electrically conductive part of the upper atmosphere that can 'bounce' radio signals back to earth.
Papadopoulos, who was involved in the research at the Alaska facility, said one of the military's major interest at the time the project's conception was communication with submarines on patrol.
“To communicate with submarines, you have to have very low frequencies, which means wavelengths which are a thousand kilometers or larger. To create those with ground stations, you have to have installations that were half the [size of the] state of Wisconsin,” he said.
He said the idea was to turn the ionosphere into a giant antenna to transmit signals underwater.
The United States also was concerned with the possibility of a nuclear bomb blast in the atmosphere increasing the density of electrons in the radiation belt and disabling all its satellites.
Papadopoulos said so little was known about the ionosphere that each new experiment led to new discoveries.
“We discovered for the first time that we could create our own little ionosphere, namely we can increase the density of electrons and create patches, which we could use as reflectors of any frequency we want, so we can really guide even gigaherz waves around,” he said.
But controlling the weather? Or causing earthquakes? The idea that an individual project could have an effect greater than the polar vortex, the energy of the sun or even the total sum of human interactions with nature is rather difficult to believe, said George Washington University Space Policy Institute Director Scott Pace.
“There are a lot of conspiracy theories because people tend to believe that somewhere, someone, some human is in control. The actual answer is that things are much more chaotic and much more not subject to our control," he said. "Mother Nature does not care and trying to understand what is going on with nature is much broader and bigger than any individual project.”
Scientific advances and shrinking budgets caused the U.S. military to propose closing the facility this year. Papadopoulos said the international scientific community would like to keep HAARP open, and offers to contribute to its $5 million annual budget have come from Canada, Britain and Taiwan.
Congress is expected to decide soon whether to accept that help.