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

Seniors-documentary-Parents

Stricken by her mom’s death, Sikh filmmaker learns ‘to keep moving forward’

LARISSA CHAHUTE VANCOUVER DESI When Vancouver filmmaker Baljit Sangra’s mother suddenly died after being struck by a car, Sangra was so devastated that she wanted…
Continue Reading »

Royal Wedding

Aga Khan’s eldest son Prince Rahim and his wife Kendra Salwa Spears expecting their first child

VANCOUVER DESI The Aga Khan’s eldest son Prince Rahim and his wife Princess Salwa (Kendra Salwa Spears) are expecting their first child, the spiritual leader…
Continue Reading »

CIVIC ELECTIONS

Surrey mayoral candidates share city visions at first meeting

AMY REID VANCOUVER DESI SURREY — Surrey mayoral candidates met for the city’s first all-candidates meeting Thursday night at SFU. Six of the seven candidates…
Continue Reading »

LOCAL NEWS

Seniors-documentary-Parents

Stricken by her mom’s death, Sikh filmmaker learns ‘to keep moving forward’

LARISSA CHAHUTE VANCOUVER DESI When Vancouver filmmaker Baljit Sangra’s mother suddenly died after being struck by a car, Sangra was so devastated that she wanted…
Continue Reading »

CIVIC ELECTIONS

Surrey mayoral candidates share city visions at first meeting

AMY REID VANCOUVER DESI SURREY — Surrey mayoral candidates met for the city’s first all-candidates meeting Thursday night at SFU. Six of the seven candidates…
Continue Reading »

OTTAWA

Surrey MP Nina Grewal’s account of the shootout in Ottawa

NINA GREWAL SPECIAL TO IANS  When Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was speaking at about 9.30 a.m. Wednesday in a caucus room of parliament, we…
Continue Reading »

Don't Miss...

student dead

Two dead, including gunman, in school shooting north of Seattle

DOUG ESSER THE ASSOCIATED PRESS MARYSVILLE, Wash. — A student opened fire in a high school cafeteria north of Seattle on Friday, killing at least…
Continue Reading »

attack on Parliament Hill

Ottawa shooter kicked out of Burnaby mosque two years ago

Zehaf-Bibeau was asked to leave the mosque, because he had “gotten a hold of keys and stuff from the mosque, and when he got out…
Continue Reading »

labour laws violation

U.S. company penalized for mistreatment of Indian employees working 122 hours in a week

MICHAEL LIEDTKE THE ASSOCIATED PRESS SAN FRANCISCO – A Silicon Valley company is paying more than $43,000 in back wages and penalties after labour regulators…
Continue Reading »

DESI-SOCCER

Surrey soccer captain played the U-18 national club championship using only one foot

KYLE BENNING SURREY NOW SOUTH SURREY – Kyle Sohi’s perseverance and performance in the 2014 Sport Chek National Club Championships U-18 Cup Final might go…
Continue Reading »

SURREY-FIELD HOCKEY

Barinder Rasode announces plan to develop field hockey pitch in Surrey

Third field at Tamanawis Park would cost approximately $3 million KYLE BENNING SURREY NOW NEWTON – Barinder Rasode and the One Surrey team were at…
Continue Reading »


Bollywood Latest

Stan Lee-Bollywood

Stan Lee plans Bollywood film on his first Indian superhero

VANCOUVER DESI Stan Lee, the legendary ‘Spiderman’ creator, is reportedly planning his Bollywood entry with a film on his Indian superhero character ‘Chakra: the Invincible’….
Continue Reading »

KANGANA RANAUT

Even my parents think I am weird, says Bollywood ‘Queen’ Kangana Ranaut

HINDUSTAN TIMES Kangana Ranaut has always made unconventional choices, be it her movies or the way she dresses. And the actor says she’s happy the…
Continue Reading »

Happy New Year-Bollywood

Happy New Year: Mandatory ‘formula’ and all those old Bollywood references

HINDUSTAN TIMES Film: Happy New Year Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, Abhishek Bachchan, Boman Irani, Sonu Sood, Vivaan Shah, Jackie Shroff Director: Farah Khan…
Continue Reading »