When scientists apply for money to build new instruments for satellite missions, they first need to outline the questions they hope to answer.
But often no one predicts the most exciting results. Here’s Arnold Gordon of Columbia University. He helped argue for an instrument to be launched by satellite in 2007 that’ll measure salt content in Earth’s global ocean.
Arnold Gordon: You know, but in the end, it’s just really a sense of exploration. Every time a satellite goes up there and makes a new measurement, it always does it somewhat better than we expected — the satellite usually lasts longer than we expected — and it also discovers a whole host of things about the ocean we didn’t know.
Dr. Gordon remembers when satellites first measured the ocean’s surface temperature in the 1960 s. The images were full of unexpected swirls and fronts of water in constant motion. These images revealed an ocean much more complex and active than the picture assembled from 100 years of spotty observations by ships.
Arnold Gordon: All sorts of new things came out of that. . . That if you looked at the documents that tried to justify those satellites you probably wouldn’t have found those things in there. That’s where the discovery and exploration comes in . . .