Quintet of Satellites Working on the Project

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2008-07-28 Print this article Print

Five customized weather satellites, launched by NASA in February 2007, are now orbiting the Earth for THEMIS. They are helping researchers determine how the beautiful, dance-like movements of the aurora borealis can be indicators of storms on the edge of space that directly affect people's lives.

The satellites are interconnected via private link to 20 specially equipped observatories in Alaska and Canada. Every four days, the quintet lines up along the equator to gather and record photographic and weather data showing where, when and how substorms develop.

The satellites are sophisticated relay stations that take photographic and videographic data from the 20 observatories and beam it back to mission control at the University of California, Berkeley, headquarters of THEMIS. As a failover or backup, the images also can be sent to the Goddard Center in Maryland.

"We discovered that whenever auroras are going on, that there are changes in the Earth's magnetic field," Sibeck said. "Instabilities happen, and they could go off at any time. We'd like to know what those instabilities are. We couldn't do that in the past with only one spacecraft; it's not enough to pin down when and where things are happening."

The Canadian and Alaskan observatories are positioned so that they can photograph the entire sky every fourth night, taking photographs or video through fisheye lenses every 3 seconds and beaming the images to one of the satellites, which in turn sends the data to the Berkeley or Maryland data centers for processing and storage.

"We have eight satellites up there at the moment doing a total of four missions; five of the satellites are doing the aurora borealis work," said Dr. Manfred Bester, director of THEMIS mission control in Berkeley. "A good amount of the video and still photographs that are taken are moved right onto our Web servers, so that the general public can see the northern lights in action."

Chris Preimesberger Chris Preimesberger was named Editor-in-Chief of Features & Analysis at eWEEK in November 2011. Previously he served eWEEK as Senior Writer, covering a range of IT sectors that include data center systems, cloud computing, storage, virtualization, green IT, e-discovery and IT governance. His blog, Storage Station, is considered a go-to information source. Chris won a national Folio Award for magazine writing in November 2011 for a cover story on Salesforce.com and CEO-founder Marc Benioff, and he has served as a judge for the SIIA Codie Awards since 2005. In previous IT journalism, Chris was a founding editor of both IT Manager's Journal and DevX.com and was managing editor of Software Development magazine. His diverse resume also includes: sportswriter for the Los Angeles Daily News, covering NCAA and NBA basketball, television critic for the Palo Alto Times Tribune, and Sports Information Director at Stanford University. He has served as a correspondent for The Associated Press, covering Stanford and NCAA tournament basketball, since 1983. He has covered a number of major events, including the 1984 Democratic National Convention, a Presidential press conference at the White House in 1993, the Emmy Awards (three times), two Rose Bowls, the Fiesta Bowl, several NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, a Formula One Grand Prix auto race, a heavyweight boxing championship bout (Ali vs. Spinks, 1978), and the 1985 Super Bowl. A 1975 graduate of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., Chris has won more than a dozen regional and national awards for his work. He and his wife, Rebecca, have four children and reside in Redwood City, Calif.Follow on Twitter: editingwhiz

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