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Wednesday, Jun 20th

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You are here News Science Gravity satellite yields 'Potato Earth' view

Gravity satellite yields 'Potato Earth' view

Potato earthIt  looks like a giant potato in space. And yet, the information in this model is the sharpest view we have of how gravity varies across the Earth. The globe has been released by the team working on Europe's Goce satellite.

It is a highly exaggerated rendering, but it neatly illustrates how the tug we feel from the mass of rock under our feet is not the same in every location.

Gravity is strongest in yellow areas; it is weakest in blue ones.

Scientists say the data gathered by the super-sleek space probe is bringing a step change in our understanding of the force that pulls us downwards and the way it is shaping some key processes on Earth.

Chief among these new insights is a clearer view of how the oceans are moving and how they redistribute the heat from the Sun around the world - information that is paramount to climate studies.

Those interested in earthquakes are also poring over the Goce results. The giant jolts that struck Japan last month and Chile last year occurred because huge masses of rock suddenly moved. Goce should reveal a three-dimensional view of what was going on inside the Earth.

"Even though these quakes resulted from big movements in the Earth, at the altitude of the satellite the signals are very small. But we should still seem them in the data," said Dr Johannes Bouman from the German Geodetic Research Institute (DGFI).

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