Remote Sensing Scientific Background

Astrobiology is the science that searches for evidence of life in the universe. Often this research involves the study of objects that cannot be touched or even seen directly. To do this we typically look for clues that signal the presence or behavior of objects that cannot be directly observed.

As an example of this from everyday life, imagine that it's your birthday, and your Aunt Patty has just given you a brightly wrapped present. What's in the package? How can you find out without opening it? You might first be able to determine what it is NOT by its size. Suppose it's too small to be a bicycle and probably too big to be a watch. Next you could pick it up. Is it heavy or light? You could shake it. Does it make a sound? Is the sound a rattle or a thud? Next you could remove the wrapping paper. Are there markings on the box that give away what it is? Open the box, but before you look inside put in your hand and feel around. Do you feel tissue paper? Is the object hard or soft? Can you tell if it's made of metal, wood, plastic or fabric? You could smell it. Does its smell help you figure out what it is? Now look at it. Pull it out of the box. Turn it over, take it apart and put it back together. Hopefully it's just what you wanted.

There are many ways we learn about the world around us. We use all of our senses - sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. Scientists use all of their senses, too. In fact they build instruments that help their senses gather information. They might use a magnifying glass or microscope to look at something very small in order to see more detail. Astronomers use a telescope to look at things very far away. Chemists have developed instruments that help them "smell" minute quantities of a material in a mixture that they might not be able to detect with their nose or that are too dangerous to inhale directly.

When scientists want to study things that they can't touch, take apart or have direct contact with, they often make observations using the technique called remote sensing. With remote sensing, information about an object is gathered from a distance without ever touching or possibly even directly seeing the object. In this activity, students will use spectral data collected from various objects within our solar system to hypothesize about the possibility for life on other planets or moons.

To gain more experience with remote sensing, check out the following websites:

Go back to Lesson.