Category: satellite

NASA’s New Planet Hunter Reveals a Sky Full of…

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NASA’s newest planet-hunting satellite — the Transiting
Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS for short
— has just released its first science image using all
of its cameras to capture a huge swath of the sky! TESS is NASA’s next step in the
search for planets outside our solar system, called exoplanets.

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This spectacular image, the first released
using all four of TESS’ cameras, shows the satellite’s full field of view. It
captures parts of a dozen constellations, from Capricornus
(the Sea Goat) to Pictor
(the Painter’s Easel) — though it might be hard to find familiar constellations
among all these stars! The image even includes the Large and Small Magellanic
Clouds, our galaxy’s two largest companion galaxies.

The science community calls this image “first
light,” but don’t let that fool you — TESS has been seeing light since it
launched in April. A first light image like this is released to show off the
first science-quality image taken after a mission starts collecting science
data, highlighting a spacecraft’s capabilities.

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TESS has been busy since it launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. First TESS needed to get into position, which required a push from the Moon.

After nearly a month in space, the satellite
passed about 5,000 miles from the Moon, whose gravity gave it the boost it needed to get into a special orbit
that will keep it stable and maximize its view of the sky.

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During those first few weeks, we also got a
sneak peek of the sky through one of TESS’s four cameras. This test image
captured over 200,000 stars in just two seconds! The spacecraft was pointed
toward the constellation Centaurus when it snapped this picture. The bright
star Beta
Centauri
is visible at the lower left edge, and the edge
of the Coalsack
Nebula
is in the right upper corner.

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After settling into orbit, scientists ran a
number of checks on TESS, including testing its ability to collect a set of
stable images over a prolonged period of time. TESS not only proved its ability
to perform this task, it also got a surprise! A comet named C/2018 N1 passed through TESS’s cameras
for about 17 hours in July.

The images show a treasure
trove of cosmic curiosities
. There are some stars whose
brightness changes over time and asteroids visible as small moving white dots.
You can even see an arc of stray light from Mars, which is located outside the
image, moving across the screen.

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Now that TESS has settled into orbit and has
been thoroughly tested, it’s digging into its main mission of finding planets around other stars.
How will it spot something as tiny and faint as a planet trillions of miles
away? The trick is to look at the star!

So far, most
of the exoplanets we’ve found
were detected by looking
for tiny dips in the brightness of their host stars. These dips are caused by
the planet passing between us and its star – an event called a transit. Over
its first two years, TESS will stare at 200,000 of the nearest and brightest stars
in the sky to look for transits to identify stars with planets.

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TESS will be building on the legacy of NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, which also used
transits to find exoplanets. TESS’s target stars are about 10 times closer than
Kepler’s, so they’ll tend to be brighter. Because they’re closer and brighter,
TESS’s target stars will be ideal candidates for follow-up studies with current
and future observatories.

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TESS is challenging over 200,000 of our
stellar neighbors to a staring contest! Who knows what new amazing planets
we’ll find?

The
TESS mission is led by MIT
and came together with the help of many
different partners
. You can keep up
with the latest from the TESS mission by following mission updates.

Make
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Did somebody say space laser?

We’re set to launch ICESat-2, our most advanced laser instrument of its kind, into orbit around Earth on Sept. 15. The Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 will make critical observations of how ice sheets, glaciers and sea ice are changing over time, helping us better understand how those changes affect people where they live. Here’s 10 numbers to know about this mission:

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One Space Laser

There’s only one scientific instrument on ICESat-2, but it’s a marvel. The Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System, or ATLAS, measures height by precisely timing how long it takes individual photons of light from a laser to leave the satellite, bounce off Earth, and return to ICESat-2. Hundreds of people at our Goddard Space Flight Center worked to build this smart-car-sized instrument to exacting requirements so that scientists can measure minute changes in our planet’s ice.

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Sea ice is seen in front of Apusiaajik Glacier in Greenland. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Jim Round

Two Types of Ice

Not all ice is the same. Land ice, like the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, or glaciers dotting the Himalayas, builds up as snow falls over centuries and forms compacted layers. When it melts, it can flow into the ocean and raise sea level. Sea ice, on the other hand, forms when ocean water freezes. It can last for years, or a single winter. When sea ice disappears, there is no effect on sea level (think of a melting ice cube in your drink), but it can change climate and weather patterns far beyond the poles.

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3-Dimensional Earth

ICESat-2 will measure elevation to see how much glaciers, sea ice and ice sheets are rising or falling. Our fleet of satellites collect detailed images of our planet that show changes to features like ice sheets and forests, and with ICESat-2’s data, scientists can add the third dimension – height – to those portraits of Earth.

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Four Seasons, Four Measurements

ICESat-2’s orbit will make 1,387 unique ground tracks around Earth in 91 days – and then start the same ground pattern again at the beginning. This allows the satellite to measure the same ground tracks four times a year and scientists to see how glaciers and other frozen features change with the seasons – including over winter.

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532 Nanometer Wavelength

The ATLAS instrument will measure ice with a laser that shines at 532 nanometers – a bright green on the visible spectrum. When these laser photons return to the satellite, they pass through a series of filters that block any light that’s not exactly at this wavelength. This helps the instrument from being swamped with all the other shades of sunlight naturally reflected from Earth.

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Six Laser Beams

While the first ICESat satellite (2003-2009) measured ice with a single laser beam, ICESat-2 splits its laser light into six beams – the better to cover more ground (or ice). The arrangement of the beams into three pairs will also allow scientists to assess the slope of the surface they’re measuring.

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Seven Kilometers Per Second

ICESat-2 will zoom above the planet at 7 km per second (4.3 miles per second), completing an orbit around Earth in 90 minutes. The orbits have been set to converge at the 88-degree latitude lines around the poles, to focus the data coverage in the region where scientists expect to see the most change.

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800-Picosecond Precision

All of those height measurements come from timing the individual laser photons on their 600-mile roundtrip between the satellite and Earth’s surface – a journey that is timed to within 800 picoseconds. That’s a precision of nearly a billionth of a second. Our engineers had to custom build a stopwatch-like device, because no existing timers fit the strict requirements.

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Nine Years of Operation IceBridge

As ICESat-2 measures the poles, it adds to our record of ice heights that started with the first ICESat and continued with Operation IceBridge, an airborne mission that has been flying over the Arctic and Antarctic for nine years. The campaign, which bridges the gap between the two satellite missions, has flown since 2009, taking height measurements and documenting the changing ice.

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10,000 Pulses a Second

ICESat-2’s laser will fire 10,000 times in one second. The original ICESat fired 40 times a second. More pulses mean more height data. If ICESat-2 flew over a football field, it would take 130 measurements between end zones; its predecessor, on the other hand, would have taken one measurement in each end zone.

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And One Bonus Number: 300 Trillion

Each laser pulse ICESat-2 fires contains about 300 trillion photons! Again, the laser instrument is so precise that it can time how long it takes individual photons to return to the satellite to within one billionth of a second. 

Learn more about ICESat-2: https://www.nasa.gov/icesat-2

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Glacier Turns into a ‘Snow Swamp’

In just four days this summer, miles of snow melted from
Lowell Glacier in Canada. Mauri Pelto, a glaciologist at Nichols College,
called the area of water-saturated snow a “snow swamp.”

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These false-color images
show the rapid snow melt in Kluane National Park in the Yukon Territory. The
first image was taken on July 22, 2018, by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2;
the next image was acquired on July 26, 2018, by the Landsat 8 satellite.

Ice is shown as light blue, while meltwater is dark blue. On
July 26, the slush covered more than 25 square miles (40 square km).

During those four days, daily temperatures 40 miles (60 km)
northeast of the glacier reached 84 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius) —
much higher than normal for the region in July.

Read more: https://go.nasa.gov/2Q9JSeO

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Last Glacier Standing in Venezuela

In 1910, glaciers covered at least 4 square miles (10 square
km) of the mountainous region of northwestern Venezuela. Today, less than one
percent of that ice remains, and all of it is locked up in one glacier. The
ongoing retreat of Humboldt Glacier—Venezuela’s last patch of perennial
ice—means that the country could soon be glacier-free.

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The glacier is in the highest part of the Andes Mountains,
on a slope at nearly 16,000 feet. A cold
and snowy climate at high elevations is key for glaciers to exist in the
tropics. Most of Earth’s tropical glaciers are found in the Andes, which runs
through Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. But warming air temperatures
have contributed to their decline, including Humboldt Glacier.

The relatively recent changes to Humboldt are evident in
these images, acquired on Jan. 20, 1988, by the
United States Geological Survey’s Landsat 5
and on Jan. 6, 2015,
by Landsat 8. The images are false-color to better differentiate between areas
of snow and ice (blue), land (brown) and vegetation (green).

Scientists are trying to understand how long Humboldt will remain.
One said: “Let’s call it no more than 10 to 20 years.”

Read more: https://go.nasa.gov/2NuYcg6

Take a deep breath. Even if the air looks clea…

Take a deep breath. Even if the air looks clear, it is nearly certain that you will inhale millions of solid particles and liquid droplets. These ubiquitous specks of matter are known as aerosols, and they can be found in the air over oceans, deserts, mountains, forests, ice, and every ecosystem in between.

If you have ever watched smoke billowing from a wildfire, ash erupting from a volcano, or dust blowing in the wind, you have seen aerosols. Satellites like Terra, Aqua, Aura, and Suomi NPP “see” them as well, though they offer a completely different perspective from hundreds of kilometers above Earth’s surface. A version of one of our models called the Goddard Earth Observing System Forward Processing (GEOS FP) offers a similarly expansive view of the mishmash of particles that dance and swirl through the atmosphere.

The visualization above highlights GEOS FP model output for aerosols on August 23, 2018. On that day, huge plumes of smoke drifted over North America and Africa, three different tropical cyclones churned in the Pacific Ocean, and large clouds of dust blew over deserts in Africa and Asia. The storms are visible within giant swirls of sea salt aerosol(blue), which winds loft into the air as part of sea spray. Black carbon particles (red) are among the particles emitted by fires; vehicle and factory emissions are another common source. Particles the model classified as dust are shown in purple. The visualization includes a layer of night light data collected by the day-night band of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on Suomi NPP that shows the locations of towns and cities.

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In Conversation with the Sun: Parker Solar Pro…

Our Sun powers life on Earth. It defines our days, nourishes our
crops and even fuels our electrical grids. In our pursuit of knowledge
about the universe, we’ve learned so much about the Sun, but in many ways we’re
still in conversation with it, curious about its mysteries.

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Parker Solar
Probe
will advance this conversation, flying
through the Sun’s atmosphere as close as 3.8 million miles from our star’s
surface, more than seven times closer to it than any previous spacecraft. If
space were a football field, with Earth at one end and the Sun at the other,
Parker would be at the four-yard line, just steps away from the Sun! This
journey will revolutionize our understanding of the Sun, its surface and solar
winds.

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Supporting Parker on its journey to the
Sun are our communications networks. Three networks, the Near Earth Network,
the Space
Network
and the Deep Space Network, provide our
spacecraft with their communications, delivering their data to mission
operations centers. Their services ensure that missions like Parker have
communications support from launch through the mission.

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For Parker’s launch
on Aug. 12, the Delta IV Heavy rocket that sent Parker skyward relied on the Space
Network. A team at Goddard Space Flight Center’s Networks Integration Center
monitored the launch, ensuring that we maintained tracking and communications
data between the rocket and the ground. This data is vital, allowing engineers
to make certain that Parker stays on the right path towards its orbit around
the Sun.

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The Space Network’s constellation of Tracking and Data
Relay Satellites
(TDRS) enabled constant communications coverage for
the rocket as Parker made its way out of Earth’s atmosphere. These satellites
fly in geosynchronous orbit, circling Earth in step with its rotation, relaying
data from spacecraft at lower altitudes to the ground. The network’s three collections
of TDRS over the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans provide enough coverage
for continuous communications for satellites in low-Earth orbit.

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The Near Earth Network’s Launch
Communications Segment tracked early stages of Parker’s launch, testing our brand
new ground stations’ ability to provide crucial information about the rocket’s
initial velocity (speed) and trajectory (path). When fully operational, it will
support launches from the Kennedy spaceport, including upcoming Orion
missions. The Launch Communications Segment’s three ground stations are located
at Kennedy Space Center; Ponce De Leon, Florida; and Bermuda. 

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When Parker separated from the Delta IV
Heavy, the Deep Space Network took over. Antennas up to 230 feet in diameter at
ground stations in California, Australia and Spain are supporting Parker for
its 24 orbits around the Sun and the seven Venus flybys that gradually shrink
its orbit, bringing it closer and closer to the Sun. The Deep Space Network is
delivering data to mission operations centers and will continue to do so as
long as Parker is operational.

Near the
Sun, radio interference and the heat load on the spacecraft’s antenna makes
communicating with Parker a challenge that we must plan for. Parker has three
distinct communications phases, each corresponding to a different part of its
orbit.

When Parker comes closest to the Sun, the
spacecraft will emit a beacon tone that tells engineers on the ground about its
health and status, but there will be very little opportunity to command the
spacecraft and downlink data. High data rate transmission will only occur
during a portion of Parker’s orbit, far from the Sun. The rest of the time,
Parker will be in cruise mode, taking measurements and being commanded through
a low data rate connection with Earth.

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Communications infrastructure is vital to
any mission. As Parker journeys ever closer to the center of our solar system,
each byte of downlinked data will provide new insight into our Sun. It’s a
mission that continues a conversation between us and our star that has lasted many
millions of years and will continue for many millions more.

For more information about NASA’s mission
to touch the Sun: https://www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/parker-solar-probe

For more information about our satellite
communications check out: http://nasa.gov/SCaN


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A persistent heatwave has been lingering over …

A persistent heatwave has been lingering over parts of Europe, setting record high temperatures and turning typically green landscapes brown.

The United Kingdom experienced its driest first half of summer (June 1 to July 16) on record. 

These images, acquired by our Terra satellite, show the burned landscape of the United Kingdom and northwestern Europe as of July 15, 2018, compared with July 17, 2017. 

Peter Gibson, a postdoctoral researcher at our Jet Propulsion Laboratory, examined how rising global temperatures are linked to regional heatwaves. “If the globe continues to warm, it’s clear we will continue to see events like this increasing in frequency, severity and duration,” Gibson said. “We found that parts of Europe and North America could experience an extra 10 to 15 heatwave days per degree of global warming beyond what we have seen already.”

Read more HERE.

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5 Examples of How Our Satellite Data is Helpin…

We could talk all day about how our satellite data is crucial for Earth science…tracking ocean currents, monitoring natural disasters, soil mapping – the list goes on and on.

But did you know there is another way this data can improve life here on Earth?

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Our satellite data can be used to build businesses and commercial products – but finding and using this data has been a daunting task for many potential users because it’s been stored across dozens of websites.

Until now.

Our Technology Transfer program has just released their solution to make finding data easier, called The NASA Remote Sensing Toolkit (RST).

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RST offers an all-in-one approach to finding and using our Earth Science data, the tools needed to analyze it, and software to build your own tools.  

Before, we had our petabytes on petabytes of information spread out across dozens of websites – not to mention the various software tools needed to interpret the data. 

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Now, RST helps users find everything they need while having only one browser open.

Feeling inspired to innovate with our data? Here are just a few examples of how other companies have taken satellite data and turned it into products, known as NASA spinoffs, that are helping our planet today.

1. Bringing Landscape into Focus

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We have a number of imaging systems for locating fires, but none were capable of identifying small fires or indicating the flames’ intensity. Thanks to a series of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contracts between our Ames Research Center and Xiomas Technologies LLC, the Wide Area Imager aerial scanner does just that. While we and the U.S. Forest Service use it for fire detection, the tool is also being used by municipalities for detailed aerial surveillance projects.

2. Monitoring the Nation’s Forests with the Help of Our Satellites

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Have you ever thought about the long-term effects of natural disasters, such as hurricanes, on forest life? How about the big-time damage caused by little pests, like webworms? 

Our Stennis Space Center did, along with multiple forest services and environmental threat assessment centers. They partnered to create an early warning system to identify, characterize, and track disturbances from potential forest threats using our satellite data. The result was ForWarn, which is now being used by federal and state forest and natural resource managers.

3. Informing Forecasts of Crop Growth

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Want to hear a corny story?

Every year Stennis teams up with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to host a program called Ag 20/20 to utilize remote sensing technology for operational use in agricultural crop management practices at the level of individual farms.
During Ag 20/20 in 2000, an engineering contractor developed models for using our satellite data to predict corn crop yield. The model was eventually sold to Genscape Inc., which has commercialized it as LandViewer. Sold under a subscription model, LandViewer software provides predictions of corn production to ethanol plants and grain traders.

4. Water Mapping Technology Rebuilds Lives in Arid Regions

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No joking around here. Lives depend on the ability to find precious water in areas with little of it.  

Using our Landsat satellite and other topographical data, Radar Technologies International developed an algorithm-based software program that can locate underground water sources. Working with international organizations and governments, the firm is helping to provide water for refugees and other people in drought-stricken regions such as Kenya, Sudan, and Afghanistan.

5. Satellite Maps Deliver More Realistic Gaming

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Are you more of the creative type? This last entry used satellite data to help people really get into their gameplay.

When Electronic Arts (EA) decided to make SSX, a snowboarding video game, it faced challenges in creating realistic-looking mountains. The solution was our ASTER Global Digital Elevation Map, made available by our Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which EA used to create 28 real-life mountains from 9 different ranges for its award-winning game.

You can browse our Remote Sensing Toolkit at technology.nasa.gov.

Want to know more about future tutorial webinars on RST?

Follow our Technology Transfer Program on twitter @NASAsolutions for the latest updates.

Want to learn more about the products made by NASA technologies? Head over to spinoff.nasa.gov.

Sign up to receive updates about upcoming tutorials HERE.

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Cape Town was on the verge of running out of w…

Cape Town was on the verge of running out of water. The South African city of 3.7 million people had suffered years of drought. But after nearly running dry earlier this year, the reservoirs are now rising thanks to rain, conservation efforts, and engineering fixes.

The city’s largest reservoir—Theewaterskloof—holds 40 percent of Cape Town’s water storage capacity, so it’s a good barometer for the amount of water available. Natural-color images, captured by Landsat 8, show the change in water levels at Theewaterskloof between July 22, 2017, and July 9, 2018.

Read more HERE.

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We See Seashores Shifting with Satellites

If you’re like us, as soon as the summer Sun is out, you start feeling – well, just beachy, sand you very much. 

Lots of our favorite beaches are inside protected marine areas, which are regulated by governments to keep their ecosystems or cultural heritage intact. If you beachcomb at Cape Cod, swim in the Florida Keys or learn about Hawaiian culture at Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, congrats! You’ve visited a protected marine area.

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But time and tide haven’t been kind to some protected beaches.

Beaches are constantly changing, and science teams are using our 30-year record of Earth images from the NASA/USGS Landsat program to study what’s happening.

Overall, the sum total of sandy beaches has increased a bit over the last 30 years. But time and tide haven’t been as kind to our protected beaches – the team found that more than 1/3 of sandy beaches in protected marine areas have been eroding away.

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Some of these areas were designated to protect vulnerable plant and animal species or connect delicate ecosystems. They are home to humpback whales and sea turtles, reefs and mangroves that protect the land from erosion and natural disasters, and species which are found in only one habitat in the world. Losing land area could upset the balance of these areas and endanger their future.

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Next step: Looking for pearls of wisdom to save the beaches!

Right now, we aren’t sure which beaches are eroding due to natural processes, and which are due to humans – that’s the next step for science teams to investigate. Once we know the causes, we can start working on solutions to save the beaches.

Those 30 years of Landsat data will help scientists find answers to these questions much faster – instead of using airplanes or measuring the beaches by hand, they can use computer programs to rapidly investigate millions of satellite photos spanning many years of change.

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By tracking beaches from space, scientists can help keep our summers sandy for years to come.

And that makes us as happy as clams.

Read the full story HERE.

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