Terra

By Zbigniew Koziol

"Terra incognita!" - these words heard from "monkey island" - ship's observation point, announced in the past discoveries of new lands. Well... not any more our "Terra" remains "incognita".

Terra, a joint project between the United States, Japan, and Canada, a part of NASA's Earth research project, started to provide daily information on the condition of the planet, with parts of the project being planned to be continued for 15 years.

Every point on the Earth may become a target of sophisticated cameras and other measuring instruments operated remotely. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA, manages two of the Terra instruments - the Multiangle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) and the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER). Other equipment on the board is CERES - Clouds and Earth's Radiant Energy System, MODIS - Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectro-Radiometer, and MOPITT - Measurements of Pollution in the Troposphere .

Images received already include results of such studies as global surface temperatures and "spring greening," or they show relationships among population concentrations, air pollution and vegetation over Indian subcontinent, as well concentrations of carbon monoxide in the lower atmosphere there.

The official aim of the project is to monitor on a global scale "how the Earth's atmosphere, lands, oceans, solar radiation and life influence each other." That is supposed to help in understanding of the Earth's climate changes and in monitoring of pollution of our globe.

One may wonder only - is it indeed possible to process this enormous amount of data, 850 gigabytes per day, delivered from the sky to research laboratories? Are we not perhaps facing a new trend in sciences where the quantity of information is considered superior over the quality of its analysis? It is estimated for instance that the first Earth system models will be completed five years after launch of the spacecraft. These questions are inevitable when experiments like that one are considered.

Terra project is also oriented commercially. Some data will be sold to interested institutions and businesses.

An example picture shown above has been taken by Terra spacecraft over San Francisco, California. Notice there a tiny line of the famous San Francisco - Oakland Bay Bridge.