Since the beginning of 2020, NASA launched more than 1200 CubeSats, a mini-satellite meant to do different space research. About 80 of them didn’t make it, they were destroyed during launch, but more than 1100 are currently on orbit. A new NASA satellite, however, can predict earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Recently, one of the CubeSats’ new features brings hope to seismologists. CubeSat Imaging Radar for Earth Sciences (CIRES) will be designated to “help decision-makers and emergency managers obtain observations sooner after a hazardous event so that they are better prepared to deal with disaster relief,” as the principal investigator Lauren Wye put it.
How the Satellite that Can Predict Earthquakes and Volcanic Eruptions work
What CIRES has is a new kind of radar that can sound the alarm of an earthquake before the cataclysm hits us. The interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) basically remotely creates two-dimensional images or three-dimensional reconstructions of objects, such as volcanos or any land surface for that matter. Then it analyzes the differences between those images, even the millimetric ones.
Before a volcano goes ballistic, a bulging phenomenon occurs. As magma wanting to reach the surface accumulates, the ground slightly inflates. This inflation is what InSAR can observe, thus warning us that a particular volcano will erupt in that specific place.
“Although it’s difficult to predict how big or how long the eruption will be, we can say, this volcano started inflating and there’s a higher probability of it erupting,” says Kyle Anderson, a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey. If the technology works, maybe in time we’ll get there too.
What’s more, the new satellite is using the S-band, which means it can penetrate dense vegetation, allowing CIRES to take sharp imagery of the ground hidden under it. Airport surveillance radar for air traffic control, and weather radar use S-band technology. Even civilians use it in their day-to-day lives. Bluetooth, WiFi, garage door openers, keyless vehicle locks, baby monitors as well as microwave ovens, all are S-band technology.