Space Science

5 ways space science is bettering life on Earth

Giphy / NASA

NASA’s impressive Mars Perseverance rover might dominate the headlines, but behind the scenes, scientists are working on technology that’s arguably even more groundbreaking: using space satellites to save our planet and improve our way of life.

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Here are 5 ways that scientists are using satellites to make life on Earth more sustainable.

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5. Tracking carbon dioxide and methane emissions

Greenhouse gases — especially carbon dioxide and methane — contribute significantly to the climate crisis, but scientists are monitoring the emissions from space.

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NASA/JPL-Caltech

Using the CarbonMapper satellite, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory also created a map that can track “super emitters” of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide.

4. Improving food security and monitoring water flows

Tracking our crops and water from space has tangible benefits for humans.

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NASA’s Applied Science Program has been hard at work tracking changing water storage and rainfall patterns, a crucial service during a time of increasing drought. They also partner with the USDA and USAID to assess how water levels — necessary to grow crops — impact agricultural conditions and food insecurity.

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In 2020, the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology Department also developed a satellite tool, CropWatch, to gather data on crop conditions, especially how they’re impacted by climate change and the Covid-19 crisis.

3. Observing air pollution

Scientists can track human pollutants from space.

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NASA has also been tracking the levels of nitrogen dioxide in the air, highlighting the importance of laws like the Clean Air Act in mitigating air pollution.

2. Helping land conservation

NASA and other organizations monitor changes in Earth’s land coverage from outer space.

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Deforestation is causing massive changes to Earth’s land coverage and threatening the habitats that support wildlife. 420 million hectares of forest have been lost through human land use since 1990.

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But through careful satellite monitoring of changes in vegetation cover and land use, organizations like NASA can gauge threats to animal biodiversity and help with conservation efforts of at-risk animals.

1. Powering renewable energy

Space stations that beam down energy from the sun might seem like something out of a science fiction movie, but that future may be closer than you think.

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Here’s how it could work in a near-future world: space satellites outfitted with solar panels use large mirrors to reflect energy onto solar collectors, which then wirelessly relay the energy to Earth in the form of microwave or laser beams.

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Space-based solar power stations could face the sun 24 hours a day, providing a constant stream of renewable energy to Earth. However, scientists must figure out how to gather the energy and materials to launch and build such stations, which are the size of approximately 1,400 football fields. So, we may need to wait a little longer before such plans can benefit planet Earth.

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