HAARP campaign’s projects range from Jupiter to the moon

HAARP's antenna array
HAARP’s antenna array. (Courtesy UAF)

The University of Alaska Fairbanks is operating the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program facility, or HAARP, for 13 projects this month. The projects are the latest made possible by federal support for the ionospheric research facility in Gakona.

In 2021 the University of Alaska Fairbanks received a five-year, $9 million grant to establish and operate the Subauroral Geophysical Observatory for Space Physics and Radio Science at HAARP.

HAARP research support services lead Evans Callis says this month’s research campaign is funded by the National Science Foundation.

“They help us with the funding aspect to make the program happen and we work directly with the scientists to make their work happen,” Callis said.

Callis calls the 10-day campaign, which runs through Oct. 28, unprecedented.

“The most experiments that we’ve had under our NSF grant that we’re currently operating under,” he said. “Also, the most diverse set of experiments that we’ve had.”

And it’s not all hard science. Among the projects is part two of an endeavor that uses HAARP’s high-power radio transmitter for art. It involves transmitting a signal into the ionosphere which can be picked by ham radio operators around the world and decoded into low-resolution TV images.

“Narrow band television video art — it also includes spoken word and sound art,” Callis said. “It’s kind of a collaborative work between the artist and the amateur radio community to kind of make the artwork happen.”

Canadian artist Amanda Dawn Christie first transmitted art via HAARP in 2019. The other dozen projects being conducted using the HAARP facility are scientific, including a NASA experiment that involves bouncing a signal off the moon.

“Very similar to ground penetrating radar actually,” Callis said. “You know we use that here on earth, but we’re applying it to figuring out the composition of asteroids, the moon, things like that.”

Another HAARP experiment aims to better understand a low-altitude, aurora-like atmospheric glow known as Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement, or STEVE. Callis says the experiment uses HAARP’s transmitter to send out so-called hot electrons thought to cause STEVE.

“And if we see that air glow and it matches the wavelength of light that we see from naturally occurring STEVE, that would give us indication that the hot electrons are playing some role in the formation of STEVE,” he said.

HAARP was built to conduct experiments in the earth’s ionosphere, but another project happening this month employs it to probe a similar electrically charged region over Jupiter, the giant gaseous planet 374 million miles away.

“This is a first-of-its-kind experiment (which) at least to my knowledge has never been attempted before,” Callis said. “We transmit several different frequencies from HAARP directed at Jupiter. We listen for the echo that returns, and that should be able to tell us something about electromagnetic conditions around Jupiter.”

The wide array of projects underscores the enduring scientific research value of HAARP, which began in 1993.

Callis says it remains the most powerful and flexible instrument of its kind in the world, and attributes this month’s research campaign to the NSF funding which provides for maintenance and prolonged viability of the facility.

“And the sense of security that brings helps scientists feel more comfortable coming up with a proposal to make use of the facility,” he said.

Scientists with NASA, the Naval Research Laboratory and Los Alamos National Lab, as well as numerous universities, are involved in this month’s HAARP research campaign.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.