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Archaeologists in space

THE image of archaeology is romantic but also decidedly messy, involving khaki-clad scientists digging through dirt and rock, gravel and mud, sand and dust. Lots of dust. But technological advances are allowing researchers to virtually dig through layers of ground, finding buried treasures without overturning a single rock.

National Geographic reports space satellites are capturing images of archaeological sites all over the world from 650 kilometres above Earth. The magazine compares the satellite imagery to medical scans: Just as doctors can examine body parts and organs beneath the skin, scientists can find objects hidden a foot beneath the surface.

Infrared images are processed to reveal subtle surface changes, and suddenly a muddy mound is discovered to be hiding a row of ancient homes.

Sarah Parcak, a University of Alabama archaeologist, has identified 17 potential buried pyramids, 3,000 settlements and 1,000 tombs across Egypt using satellite imagery, according to the magazine. At Tanis, a 3,000-year-old city in the Nile Delta, Parcak identified shallowly buried houses. So far, a team of French researchers has excavated one of those dwellings, according to the magazine.

"Using laborious, low-tech excavation, it might have taken a century to assemble a similar city plan," the magazine says. A bonus is that satellites give scientists eyes on locales that might be difficult or dangerous to visit in person.

Eighth Landsat launched

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A rocket carrying an Earth-observing satellite has launched on a mission to track changes to the planet's natural resources.

The Atlas V rocket lifted off earlier this week under mostly clear skies from Vandenberg Air Force Base along California's central coast.

The $855-million Landsat mission, headed by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey, is the eighth in a series that began in 1972. For four decades, the Landsat satellites have tracked retreating glaciers, drought conditions, agricultural crop output and deforestation.

The newest Landsat carries instruments that are more powerful than its predecessors. It'll send back images to ground stations in South Dakota, Alaska and Norway.

 

-- from the wire services

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 23, 2013 J14

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