Italy is shaken, in every sense. The earthquake that from this summer it hit the center of the beautiful country has aroused ancestral fears. The dead, the crashes, the displaced: the terrible images that we find it hard to accept. And yet we know we are on a fault that inevitably moves, causing what caused. It is only a matter of time, but it will happen again.
And then to exorcise the fear we rely on prevention, to scientific studies, to see if and when the next earthquake will come. Difficult task, at impossible limit. Geologists studying with seismographs terrestrial movements said in every way that we can predict where it will happen, but not when. Something new, however, comes from the space, more precisely from satellites orbiting the Earth, they continue to probe the areas affected by the earthquake, providing valuable data.
The from above monitoring helps verify the magnitude and extent of the damage and, more importantly, allows to follow and to reconstruct the progress of the seismic events that are taking place in the heart of the Apennines. In particular, the images taken before and after the earthquake in late October by the system of Cosmo SkyMed satellites ASI (Italian Space Agency) allow us to reconstruct what happened. Their elaboration is assigned to the company e-GEOS, formed by the ASI and Telespazio –joint venture between Leonardo – which Finmeccanica holds 67% and Thales 33% of the company– that operates within the European project of Copernicus’ Esa (European space Agency) to provide maps for emergency management.
The system Cosmo SkyMed – as told Raffaella Quadri to Radio Bullets – consists of four satellites equipped with radar sensors operating in X-band, that is, they are able to see in the night and through clouds; and to make up to eighteen hundred radar images every twenty-four hours. It is the first satellite of Earth observation system designed for civilian and military purposes, in fact, it was developed from ASI together with Ministry of Defence.
The image processing collected from the four satellites of Cosmo SkyMed are very sophisticated and are made thanks to the use special algorithms that can highlight variations of a few centimeters. The data collected by satellites are then integrated with those recorded on the ground by seismographs. Experts were able to reconstruct the map of the extension of the earthquake and what direction it is taking, also collecting information on damage and the quality of infrastructure. Thanks to the first data collected it was possible, for example, to record the deformation of the ground which is lowered by seventy centimeters in some of the affected areas.
Just on work of satellites is based also CSES mission (China SEISMO electromagnetic satellite) that will take to the skies in July and August of next year and sees committed Italy and China for ten years. The satellite project aims to find out whether there are phenomena associated with earthquakes that can be observed and identified in time from the space. It is not clear yet what happens, but from previous missions it was recognized a link between the possible disturbance of the ionosphere, due to changes in magnetic fields and in the particles that compose it, and the seismic events that occur on the ground. It could be caused by emissions from the earth’s crust of very low frequency electromagnetic waves.
The satellite mission could confirm these hypothesis and find out that what is recorded in space during the earthquake is actually confirmed. In addition to finding these confirmations, the goal is to be able to build analytical models, accurate able to explain the phenomena of earthquakes preparation and hopefully one day, they can be planned in good time.
The satellite of the Italian-Chinese Mission – explains Raffaella Quadri – will be placed in orbit at an altitude of five hundred kilometers from the Earth. Italy will participate to the project with ASI and INFN (National Institute of Nuclear Physics) the INGV (National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology), the INAF (National Institute for Astrophysics) and some Italian universities. At first launch in 2017 it is now plan to do a second one between 2019 and 2020.
So, the technology is going to give us more and more help in emergency management, but it is the fundamental fact: the man is not able to govern the nature nor to predict the movements. The delirium of scientific omnipotence is not justified by any discovery, not even the most important, because – after all we are just a speck in the immense scene of Creation.