Fact Check: Image Does NOT Show 'HAARP Ionospheric Heaters'

Fact Check

  • by: Uliana Malashenko
Fact Check: Image Does NOT Show 'HAARP Ionospheric Heaters' Chernobyl

Does a post on social media that claims the HAARP ionospheric heater is all over the world show an authentic photo of one? No, that's not true: It's a photo of a long-abandoned Soviet-era radar in Ukraine. Before the 2022 Russian full-scale invasion, the area, which had been evacuated due to high radiation levels after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, was popular with tourists.

The claim appeared in a post (archived here) on Facebook on February 18, 2024. It began:

Can you handle the truth?
HAARP isn't just in Alaska, it's spread evenly all over our world! Controlled in tandem with other weather modification programs, all working simultaneously together to bring 'hell on earth', meaning time is modified on a scale many people cannot imagine!

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:

Screen Shot 2024-02-22 at 10.47.05 AM.png

(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Thu Feb 22 15:47:05 2024 UTC)

HAARP -- a long-term target of false conspiracy theorists -- is a high-frequency transmitter (archived here) for the study of the ionosphere. Between its inception in 1990 and 2014, it was managed by the U.S. Air Force and the Navy, but now it's operated (archived here) by the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

While the most powerful, HAARP (High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program) is not the only ionospheric heater (archived here) -- there are other heaters of this type in the world.

But the image reused by the post on Facebook does not show HAARP or any other ionospheric heaters -- it is the now-defunct Soviet over-the-horizon radar Duga (archived here), located in the exclusion zone surrounding the site of the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine. The facility was a complex of antennas (archived here) 492 feet high and almost half a mile wide. But Duga could only receive signals -- a few then-existing similar transmitting stations were located in other regions.

According to the reverse image search tool TinEye, the photo from the post on Facebook has been online at least since 2010 and was first published in Russian-language blogs:

Screen Shot 2024-02-22 at 11.52.46 AM.png(Source: TinEye screenshot taken on Thu Feb 22 16:52:46 2024 UTC)

Built at the height of the Cold War in the 1970s (archived here) to detect long-range missile launches, Duga, a once-classified project, not only predates the creation of HAARP -- it could not be part of any coordination between the U.S. and the USSR.

Often dubbed the Russian Woodpecker (archived here) in American sources for the specific radio signals it once produced, the radar was a notable landmark (archived here) between the early 2010s, when the Ukrainian government opened (archived here) the exclusion zone for official tours, and February 19, 2022 (archived here), when Chernobyl, too close to the state border, was closed to visitors days before Russia's full-scale invasion.

Duga can still be seen in the high-quality footage recorded by BBC and Ukrainian newsroom Ukrainska Pravda. The HAARP equipment looks different.

Lead Stories reached out to HAARP for additional comment. When we receive a response, this article will be updated as appropriate.

Other Lead Stories fact checks about science can be found here.

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  Uliana Malashenko

Uliana Malashenko is a New York-based freelance writer and fact checker.

Read more about or contact Uliana Malashenko

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