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FormoSat-5 may allow earthquake prediction in the future: scientist

2018/01/24 18:28:07

Liu Jann-yenq (劉正彥, file photo)/photo courtesy of National Central University

Taipei, Jan. 24 (CNA) Taiwan's FormoSat-5 satellite detected changes in the ionospheric days before a major earthquake in the Middle East last November, which bodes well for the prediction of quakes in the future, a Taiwanese scientist said Wednesday.

Liu Jann-yenq (劉正彥), a professor at National Central University's Graduate Institute of Space Science, said that an analysis of the data collected by the satellite found about a 50 percent increase in the ion concentration in the ionosphere seven to nine days before the quake occurred.

The 7.3-magnitude earthquake, said to be the deadliest in 2017, struck on the Iran-Iraq border on Nov. 12 last year, killing more than 500 people and injuring thousands, according to international media reports.

In a press briefing on FormoSat-5's performance, Liu said a plate movement would cause electric charge separation, leading to the formation of an electric field that can be detected by the satellite.

The data collected by FormoSat-5 on the changes in the ionosphere before the earthquake last November indicates that the satellite is world-class in terms of precision and speed, said Liu, a space physics scientist.

"With more research, the satellite may be used to predict earthquakes," he said, adding that FormoSat-5 currently is limited to data collection and statistics gathering.

What is known now is that the ion concentration in the ionosphere will change before an earthquake, depending on the circumstances, including factors such as the impending depth and magnitude, Liu said.

Within the next decade, reasonably accurate prediction of earthquakes may become possible, he said.

"At least, it would be possible to predict an earthquake several days ahead, like making a weather forecast, so that people will have time to take precautions," Liu said.

FormoSat-5, Taiwan's first indigenous satellite, was launched in the United States on Aug. 25 last year aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It carries an optical remote sensing payload and a science payload -- the AIP -- to execute remote sensing missions and perform science research, respectively.

The AIP is an all-in-one plasma sensor to measure ionospheric plasma concentrations, velocities, and temperatures over a wide range of spatial scales.

The transient and long-term variations of ionospheric plasma can be monitored as seismic precursors associated with earthquakes, according to Taiwan's National Space Organization, which is in charge of the FormoSat-5 program.

(By Chen Chih-chung and Elizabeth Hsu)
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