Saturday, March 20, 2010

German Satellite to Help Detect Threats to Earth

With a new satellite project, Germany's space agency is hoping to create an early warning system for potential asteroid strikes against the Earth. An asteroid impact may have contributed to the death of the dinosaurs, and scientists would like to be able to predict the next Earth-bound collosus before it hits.

The atmosphere is reminiscent of the bridge on the Starship Enterprise. A dozen workspaces are arranged in a semicircle, each blue-seated place is equipped with a large square monitor, a Webcam, headphone and microphone. A central console is located in the middle of the room, within view of the camera embedded in the wall. This is where Captain Kirk would most likely sit and issue his commands.

But because we are located on the outskirts of Bremen, just a stone's throw from the highway, and not somewhere in the vastness of the universe, Captain Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard are nowhere to be found. In their place sit engineers and scientists. Here, on the bright ground floor of the Bremen branch of the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the country's space agency, they are building satellites. The "Concurrent Engineering Facility" is what researchers call this futuristic workspace -- and the work they are doing here could possibly save the Earth.

Researcher Marcus Hallmann points to one of the three impressively large monitors at the front of the central planning office. It looks like colorful confetti is dancing around his fingers. Red, green, yellow and white dots move back and forth, in constant motion. Surrounded by the hubbub, there are two labeled ellipses -- the orbits of the Earth (green) and Venus (pink), Hallmann explains. And each of the colorful, moving points could, in theory, inflict great harm on Earth.

To read more:,1518,684375,00.html

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