Unlike Hollywood movies, satellite searches for Malaysia Airlines’ missing jet has limits

Published: March 20, 2014
Missing Jet-Australia-satellite image-debris

This combo of handout satellite images taken on March 16, 2014 and released on March 20, 2014 by the Australian Government’s Department of Defence

HOLBROOK MOHR
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

The satellites searching vast stretches of ocean for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane are not the stuff of Hollywood.

They can scan large areas for relatively small objects, but they have limitations.

That’s why experts say images taken by a private-sector satellite company and released by the Australian government provide a clue that needs investigating, but they aren’t conclusive evidence that the objects in the images are from the missing Boeing 777.

To the untrained eye, the two objects might look like large, white-capped waves in the open ocean. To the eyes of experts, they were sufficiently compelling to send four airplanes to search an area of the southern Indian Ocean.

“You know how they say a picture is worth 1,000 words? Well, in satellite imagery, the picture’s only worth 500. The rest has to come from analysis,” said Sean O’Connor, an imagery analyst with IHS Janes, a firm that specializes in the analysis of defence-related matters.

“It would be very nice if you could see a whole wing floating there, then you could say, ‘OK that’s an airplane,’” O’Connor said. “When you’re looking at something like this, you can’t tell what it is.”

One of the objects was almost 80 feet (24 metres) long and the other was about 15 feet (5 metres) long, according to John Young, manager of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s emergency response division. The images were taken March 16, but Australian officials say it took time to analyze them before they were released.

Young called it “the best lead we have right now.”

Related Stories:

The search was expected to resume at daylight in the area, about 7 p.m. Eastern time in the U.S.

The images came from a DigitalGlobe commercial satellite that scans the Earth from the north to south, said Tim Brown, a satellite imagery expert at GlobalSecurity.org in Alexandria, Va.

These kinds of satellites can look left to right, but the further they look to the side, the lower quality the images will be. There are other limitations. Because of their orbits, they can only scan a specific section of the Earth at certain times each day, much like the sun is only overhead part of the day.

Commercial satellites may be able to pick up stripes on a parking lot by using interpretation software and the contrast of the colours of the stripes and asphalt, but a similar size object in the ocean could easily be missed, said Joseph Bermudez Jr., chief analytics officer and co-founder AllSource Analysis, which specializes in satellite imagery.

They aren’t like those in the movies that can, say, read a car’s license plate from space. And the images are not going to be as clear as those taken by a drone, which is much closer to the Earth.

Governments have more powerful satellites, but those are classified and used for intelligence and national security, trained in the case of the United States on countries like North Korea and Iran, Brown said.

A Pentagon spokesman, Rear Adm. John Kirby, said that as far as he knows, the U.S. has received no specific requests to review its satellite data in response to the discovery in the southern Indian Ocean.

Analyzing satellite images requires an experienced eye, looking for something anomalous that may not mean much to most people. And that has to be filtered through whatever information may be available, like a possible route taken by the missing airplane.

Bermudez said it’s apparent from the images that there is an object floating at or near the ocean’s surface, but it could be trash unrelated to the plane, so people have to go check it out.

DigitalGlobe, a leading commercial provider of high-resolution Earth imagery, recently launched a crowdsourcing effort to locate the plane, which disappeared March 8 with 239 people on board. The effort, using a crowdsourcing platform called Tomnod, relies on Internet users to identify debris.

DigitalGlobe said in a statement that its understanding is the search area expanded to the southern Indian Ocean and waters near Australia in the last few days, “at which time the Australian government started combing through imagery of this extremely large area.”



Picture 1 of 54

In this photo taken April 29, 2014 provided by the Australia Defence Force, multinational air-crew and aircraft involved in operation "Southern Indian Ocean" are assembled for a photo at RAAF Base Pearce, in Perth, Western Australia. Seven nations, including Australia, New Zealand, the U.S., South Korea, Malaysia, China and Japan, have flew daily search mission out to the southern Indian Ocean in the massive multinational hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. AP Photo/Australian Defence Force, Cpl. Nicci Freeman

___

Associated Press writers Robert Burns and Lolita Baldor in Washington D.C. and Raphael Satter in London contributed to this report.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,





Featured

Violent Vancouver muggings

Violent street mugging in Burnaby brings light sentences to two of the perpetrators

A third suspect who has never been arrested held knife to victim’s throat KEITH FRASER VANCOUVER DESI A man convicted in a violent street mugging…
Continue Reading »

security-CBSA-Transit Police-death

Migrant group asks Transit Police not to share info with CBSA

THE CANADIAN PRESS A B.C. group is calling on Transit police to stop sharing all information about migrants with the Canada Border Services Agency. Transit…
Continue Reading »

TK

IHIT takes case after body found in SUV in Surrey City Centre area

VANCOUVER DESI The RCMP’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team is at the scene where a deceased male was discovered in Surrey’s City Centre area Friday morning….
Continue Reading »

LOCAL NEWS

Health Canada warns about bedbug control products after 2 Alberta children die

By John Cotter THE CANADIAN PRESS EDMONTON — The federal government is warning Canadians of what it calls the “extreme danger” of using unregistered products…
Continue Reading »

Violent Vancouver muggings

Violent street mugging in Burnaby brings light sentences to two of the perpetrators

A third suspect who has never been arrested held knife to victim’s throat KEITH FRASER VANCOUVER DESI A man convicted in a violent street mugging…
Continue Reading »

security-CBSA-Transit Police-death

Migrant group asks Transit Police not to share info with CBSA

THE CANADIAN PRESS A B.C. group is calling on Transit police to stop sharing all information about migrants with the Canada Border Services Agency. Transit…
Continue Reading »

Don't Miss...

Hands Against Racism

Hands Against Racism: Send us a selfie and make a statement against racism (with video)

VANCOUVER DESI Vancouver Desi’s digital anti-racism campaign, Raise Your Hands Against Racism, officially kicked off Thursday, with people across the Lower Mainland sending in selfies…
Continue Reading »

triplets

U.S. mom with 2 kids celebrates one-month birthdays of rare identical triplet boys (with photos)

COREY WILLIAMS THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ST. CLAIR SHORES, Mich. – A suburban Detroit couple who have two older children are adjusting to life after becoming…
Continue Reading »

File photo: An Indian Muslim bride, her hands decorated with henna, attends a mass wedding organized by a social service organization in Mumbai, India, Sunday, Feb. 15, 2015. AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool

Groom dumped by bride-to-be for a wedding guest accuses her of drugging him before ceremony

VANCOUVER DESI A 25-year-old Indian groom who was dumped by his bride-to-be for a wedding guest after he suffered an alleged seizure has accused his…
Continue Reading »

bikram

Vancouver woman sues hot yoga guru Bikram Choudhury for sexual assault

SUSAN LAZARUK VANCOUVER DESI A Vancouver woman is claiming the leader of one of B.C.’s largest yoga chains repeatedly sexually assaulted and coerced her over…
Continue Reading »

murder plot-Pakistan-love triangle

U.S. man convicted of setting up fatal shooting of Pakistani wife while walking with young son

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS MORRISTOWN, N.J. — A man was convicted Thursday of setting up the fatal shooting of his Pakistan-born wife while the couple was…
Continue Reading »


Bollywood Latest

Katrina Kaif -bikini blouse

Gallery: Bollywood babes pair hot bikini blouses with sarees

VANCOUVER DESI When it comes to sinful fashion mingled with grace, elegance and beauty, no one can beat Bollywood actresses and their style sense. Check…
Continue Reading »

Bollywood film review

Dum Laga Ke Haisha: So real and heart-warming, it smells like life

SUBHASH K. JHA IANS  Film: “Dum Laga Ke Haisha”; Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Bhumi Pedneker; Written and Directed by Sharat Katariya; Rating: ****(4 stars) It’s very…
Continue Reading »

Katti Batti

Bollywood actors Kangana Ranaut and Imran Khan are having fun on the sets of Katti Batti

IANS Mumbai – Actor Imran Khan is having a “positive experience” filming “Katti Batti”, thanks to his “wonderful co-star” Kangana Ranaut and “great director” Nikhil…
Continue Reading »