Four things we learnt by watching Earth from Space

Humans have spent millennia looking up into space, trying to figure out its mysteries and secrets.

Now, a new documentary on BBC One is looking from space at Earth, to show us just how incredible our planet really is.

Yukon River Delta, Alaska, from spaceNASA/USGS
This is the Yukon River Delta, in Alaska, seen from above.

Earth from Space combines satellite images with footage on the ground, to give us (and scientists) a perspective on our home that we’ve never experienced before. It's led to some amazing discoveries - here are just a few of the things we found out in episode one.

1000 satellites are orbiting the Earth at any given moment

Feels a bit Big Brother-esque doesn’t it?

But these satellites have led to some incredible discoveries across the globe.

In Earth from Space, they reveal that these satellites have seen grey whales giving birth off the coast of Mexico, seen one of the largest ever icebergs break away from the Antarctic ice shelf and found an isolated rainforest on a 500 metre high cliff in Mozambique. So we can probably live with the satellites, then.

Penguins poo so much, the results can be seen from space

Emperor penguins
As much as 20% of the world’s emperor penguin population could disappear in the next century.

It’s gross. It smells. And it can help discover new colonies of emperor penguins in the Antarctic.

What are we talking about? Poo. Satellite imagery revealed huge brown patches on the Antarctic ice, which scientists then investigated.

As it turns out, these marks were left behind by penguins relieving themselves. Because they eat the ice to stay hydrated though, they need to move on every so often when they’ve… sullied the ground too much.

These moving brown stains (eew) were captured by satellites, but not only that, they were seen in areas not previously thought to have had any emperor penguins. These images have led to the discovery of a staggering 26 new colonies of emperor penguins, which has doubled the known global population of the species.

Penguin poo in Antarctica seen from space© 2018 DIGITALGLOBE, A MAXAR COMPANY
Gross, but very useful to scientists.

Hippos lead double lives as architects

Okavango delta in Botswana, Africa, seen from spaceNASA/JSC EARTH SCIENCE & REMOTE SENSING UNIT
The shimmering Okavango delta in Botswana, Africa.

You may think that all hippos do is eat, swim, and fight each other. But in Botswana, the country’s largest groups of hippos moonlight as architects.

By manoeuvring through the thick vegetation to find food, from the pools that they live in, these three-tonne bulldozers create a vast network of waterways, with enough crossroads and roundabouts to make Milton Keynes green with envy.

These networks create a delta called the Okavango. Deltas usually form where a river meets the sea, however the Okavango sits in the north of Botswana, transforming 10,000 square kilometres of desert into an oasis.

Your talent shows could be seen from space

Shaolin Kung Fu display in Dengfeng, China
This sea of red has been captured from space.
Shaolin Kung Fu display in Dengfeng, China
Don’t try this at home without doing as much training as Ching!

Okay, so maybe not your school’s end of year talent show. But a particular one in China, performed by 35,000 students, creates a beautiful spectacle that satellites have been able to capture.

In Dengfeng, a small city in central China, a boy called Ching trains in martial arts at school for six hours every day. Once a year, him and his fellow students perform a particular type, Shaolin Kung Fu, in a display that creates breathtaking patterns when seen from above.

Watch BBC 1’s Earth from Space every Wednesday at 9pm on TV, or on BBC iPlayer.

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