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Hot topic: Arizona State University students to explore local effects on climate

(Photo: Alexander Nie/flickr via Creative Commons)

PHOENIX — Cities like Phoenix trap quite a bit of heat during the summer and, thanks to a little help from NASA, a group of Arizona State University students are investigating just exactly how that happens.

NASA is providing the university with a $200,000 grant, which will allow ASU undergraduate students to send a satellite into space with thermal imaging technology.

“The satellite will help us to learn more about Phoenix and its local effect on the climate here in a process called urban heat island, which is that the city gets hotter than its surrounding environment,” said Judd Bowman, associate professor at ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration.

He said cities like Phoenix trap heat and overnight temperatures stay a lot warmer than the surrounding desert environment. Once the satellite is launched into orbit, it will fly over Phoenix twice a data, measuring the heat data coming from the city.

“(The goal) is understanding how the actual ground temperature, (or) the surface temperature that the satellite will be able to measure, relates to the air temperature right above the ground in the city,” Bowman said.

He said the satellite will look at Phoenix and other cities at different times of the day. Bowman added that one of the significant parts of this is that it will be completely run by Arizona State undergraduate students. They will build the satellite, which will be about the size of a loaf of bread, with the hopes of launching it into space sometime in 2018.

“The intent is really to give them the opportunity to learn through a real mission scenario,” Bowman said. “They’re going to operate the satellite and they’re going to actually analyze the data and hopefully find the good scientific results at the end.”

ASU students will monitor the satellite from a ground control base at the School of Earth and Space Exploration in Tempe.

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