The advancement of space technologies has done a great amount for us here on Earth and it very much all began with the very first images of our planet taken by astronauts of the Apollo Moon program and those sent back by the Voyager and Galileo spacecraft on their journey to other planets in the Solar System. These images have made us realise not just how small Earth is in the grand scale of our solar neighbourhood and beyond but also how delicate it is.
The development of satellites has aided our life on Earth greatly from those used for transmitting TV and telephone signals and satellite navigation systems (such as those used by cars and aeroplanes) to satellites that orbit our planet allowing us to not only take a closer look at its features but giving us an insight on how best to take care of it. Satellites have allowed us to study oceans, the atmosphere, clouds, weather, rainforests, deserts, cities, ice sheets and just about everything else on, and even within, our planet.
Using information returned by satellites has also allowed us to grasp an understanding of our own influence on Earth’s delicate state. We are now beginning to understand how pollution from cars, factories and even household products affects our atmosphere, destroying some of the ozone that protects us and other living things from the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. Since the ozone is being chipped away over some parts of our planet, we know that we must find and use chemicals that are less damaging to our atmosphere.
Having satellites tracking the weather has also come in handy by keeping a close eye on dangerous weather systems, such as the recent Hurricane Sandy, as they develop giving people enough time to prepare and even evacuate vulnerable areas. They have also allowed us to study our oceans which have been found to store abundant amounts of heat which in turn affect the weather, causing heavy rain in some parts of the world whilst drought in others.
Satellites keep an eye on remote areas of the world making them invaluable when it comes to observing the depletion of ice sheets in the north and south poles – important indicators of global warming and possible flooding of coastal areas – as well as the shrinking of our precious rainforests.
Answered by science journalist Gemma Lavender