ESA’s Living Planet Symposium in Bergen has been hearing from satellites dedicated to measuring the health of Earth. SMOS, the Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity satellite, recently began collecting data. It will be used to provide information on the water cycle and climate processes and also can be used for water management, weather forecasting and predicting drought and floods. Meanwhile Envisat results from 2003-2010 have been converted into an animation showing the thinning of the Antarctic ice over that period. The results agree with those of the GRACE satellite run by America and Germany.
Also in the news today was the ESA satellite Proba-2, which showed a stunning out rush of material from the solar surface. Proba-2 is a microsatellite, up there to test various components for use on other missions. Nevertheless, it is providing data on how the Sun can effect the Earth.
The Sun’s effects may not just be confined to this planet, it would seem. Experiments carried out using the Advanced Light Source at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s synchrotron have shown that illuminating a nitrogen-methane mixture with ultraviolet light can produce solid, nitrogen rich organic molecules. Organic in this sense just means hydrocarbon-carbon based, however they can be the building blocks of more complex things and adding nitrogen can make them more chemically active. The importance of the experiment is that the nitrogen-methane mix and the amount of UV light pumped in mimicked the conditions prevalent on Saturn’s largest moon Titan. Furthermore, the amount of solid organic material that rained down was produced faster than models predicted. There may well be another Living Planet out there in the solar system, somewhere.