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NASA Probe Sees Solar Wind Decline

The 33-year odyssey of NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft has reached a distant point at the edge of our solar system where there is no outward motion of solar wind. Now hurtling toward interstellar space some 17.4 billion...

Super-Earth Atmosphere

A team of astronomers, including two NASA Sagan Fellows, has made the first characterizations of a super-Earth's atmosphere, by using a ground-based telescope...

Kepler Discovers

NASA's Kepler spacecraft has discovered the first confirmed planetary system with more than one planet crossing in front of, or transiting, the same star...

Pulverized Planet

Tight double-star systems might not be the best places for life to spring up, according to a new study using data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope....

Dark Asteroids

NASA is set to launch a sensitive new infrared telescope to seek out sneaky things in the night sky -- among them, dark asteroids that could pose a threat to Earth....

Two satellite instruments aboard NASA's Solar Radiation & Climate Experiment (SORCE) mission - the Total Solar Irradiance Monitor (TIM) and the Solar Irradiance Monitor (SIM) - have made daily measurements of the sun's brightness since 2003.

The two instruments are part of an ongoing effort to monitor variations in solar output that could affect Earth's climate. Both instruments measure aspects of the sun's irradiance, the intensity of the radiation striking the top of the atmosphere.
Instruments similar to TIM have made daily irradiance measurements of the entire solar spectrum for more than three decades, but the SIM instrument is the first to monitor the daily activity of certain parts of the spectrum, a measurement scientists call solar spectral irradiance.

In recent years, SIM has collected data that suggest the sun's brightness may vary in entirely unexpected ways. If the SIM's spectral irradiance measurements are validated and proven accurate over time, then certain parts of Earth’s atmosphere may receive surprisingly large doses of solar radiation even during lulls in solar activity.

"We have never had a reason until now to believe that parts of the spectrum may vary out of phase with the solar cycle, but now we have started to model that possibility because of the SIM results,” said Robert Cahalan, the project scientist for SORCE and the head of the climate and radiation branch at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
Cahalan, as well as groups of scientists from the University of Colorado at Boulder and Johns Hopkins University, presented research at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco in December that explored the climate implications of the recent SIM measurements.

Cahalan’s modeling, for example, suggests that the sun may underlie variations in stratospheric temperature more strongly than currently thought. Measurements have shown that stratospheric temperatures vary by about 1 °C (1.8 °F) over the course of a solar cycle, and Cahalan has demonstrated that inputting SIM’s measurements of spectral irradiance into a climate model produces variations of that same magnitude.

Without inclusion of SIM data, the model produces stratospheric temperature variations only about a fifth as strong as would be needed to explain observed stratospheric temperature variations. "We may have a lot more to learn about how solar variability works, and how the sun might influence our climate," Cahalan said. Read More...

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