Our Galaxy

Eyes in the Sky: What You Should Know About Satellites

Satellites are a common technology nowadays. Yet every launch costs million of dollars and involves a lot of risks. If one single thing goes wrong, those millions of dollars and hundreds of hours invested are gone.

However, satellites do provide invaluable information that could only be vaguely estimated from the ground. With sophisticated sensors and by repeating their orbit around the Earth over and over again, they can monitor the tiniest variations in the Earth atmosphere.

In the last few years, satellites have been put to use for the following purposes:

  • The Global Positioning System (GPS) used in your car can also be used to detect tiny movements in the Earth’s crust as slow as millimeters per year. Cracks and strain patterns can be identified, helping to forecast the next seismic disaster and potentially saving thousands of lives.
  • The GOCE satellite (Gravity field and Ocean Circulation Explorer) has allowed scientists to measure and map gravity across the planet. This information was only estimated until the satellite was put into use in 2009. It can be used to further understand oceanic activity and help predict earthquakes. Regrettably, this satellite has been destroyed.
  • The Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity satellite, known as SMOS, helps us understand the varying levels of salinity in oceans and of moisture in soil. It contributes to better weather forecasting, to the study of ice and snow accumulation and to better understanding of climate.
    Infrared imaging has revealed pyramids buried under Egyptian sand for millennia that had remained unknown to man. More than 1000 tombs and 3000 settlements were found in 2011.
  • Satellite-based LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) is similar to RADAR, which uses radio waves, in that it uses laser rays to calculate distance. It is used to study everything from weather patterns to the rainforest canopy.
    CryoSat-2, launched in 2010, measures the thickness of the polar ice caps with a resolution of half an inch. It provides vital information on climate change, ocean circulation and sea-level rises.
  • GPS is applied to biological and earth sciences in many different ways like tracking bird migrations or monitoring changes in the topography of Antarctic ice.
  • Satellites can also monitor the amount of carbon dioxide and methane emitted and absorbed by the Earth, helping us understand the carbon cycle, greenhouse gases and humans’ contributions to their emission.

These satellites are extremely relevant to our environmental situation right now. Perhaps the days of space exploration are over, and priority should be given to launching satellites that can help us better understand our own planet. Through satellite studies, we can hope to fully comprehend all the different systems that play a role in climate change and seismic activity.

Over 400 Million New Stars to Name!

Astronomers have been extremely excited lately with all of the data pouring out of Gaia.precise map of the stars

The only problem is, there’s too much of it!

Over a billion flecks of light have been recorded already. Four hundred million have never been recorded before. That’s a HUGE new database of stars.

In fact, it is such a huge leap that a website has been set up asking for any one’s help that’s willing to give it. You can find the website here.

And don’t worry if you’re no expert. A group of school children while demonstrating to the BBC on how to use the website stumbled on a supernova, an exploded star.

So if school kids can do this, you sure can too!

And on On May 16, the Gaia satellite spotted its first superluminous supernova.

And it’s not only stars that Gaia has captured, there will undoubtedly be planets as well.

Some scientists speculate that the number of new planets found will top 20,000 in the next five years.

In the last twenty years of searching for planets in our solar system by both professional and amateur astronomers, only 3,000 have been found.

Imagine all of the possibilities in our heavens now…

It’ll be interesting to see how these new stars will be named and cataloged. Since I’m not married, I guess I’d be naming a star after someone like my grandmother or even my cat Mila.

But to be serious, this represents an entire new “world” to play in.

I love astronomy, and this just gets me even more motivated to buy a telescope or something.

I love looking up at night at the stars. There grandness makes me realize how insignificant I am at the end of the day.

And how beautiful and amazing our universe really is.

and is scheduled to stay out there giving up the most precise map of our heavens for the next five years.

Gaia will make a very precise 3D map of our Milky Way Galaxy:

  • It is the successor to the Hipparcos satellite which mapped some 100,000 stars
  • The one billion to be catalogued by Gaia is still only 1% of the Milky Way’s total
  • But the survey’s quality promises a raft of discoveries beyond just the star map
  • It will find new asteroids and planets; It will test physical constants and theories
  • Gaia’s sky map will be the reference to guide future telescopes’ observations

It’s believed it will find stars, asteroids and even planets. Let alone all of the supernovas and other natural disruptions of the universe.

It will also end a lot of debates in the scientific world as well.

And most likely create new ones.

I’m so excited to see how this all works out!