Scientists watch baby turtles from space

A baby bog turtle rests in a palm. Researchers track the movement, and the environments of the animals such as baby turtles with the help of antennas connected to the International Space Station.

(Rosie Walunas/USFWS National Digital Library)

Thanks to the technology that cosmonauts install on the International Space Station, scientists gain an alien view of the baby turtles and other animals.

On a spacewalk on Wednesday (Aug. 15), two cosmonauts affixing of antennas to the space station as part of a cutting-edge animal-tracking system for the International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space (ICARUS) Initiative. Within this initiative, biodiversity researchers of the Max Planck Yale Center (MPYC) for the Biodiversity Movement, and Global Change in to animals, such as bats, baby turtles, parrots, and songbirds from the space, according to a statement from Yale. The project is a collaboration between the Russian and German space agencies.

This is not the first time that animals have been followed from space. Previously, space-based instruments have contributed to the tracking of the migration of animals and even show how species react to the seasons or changes in climate. With these new efforts, however, researchers will be able to see “not only where an animal is, but also what they do,” Martin Wikelski, chief strategist for the ICARUS Initiative, director of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and co-director of the MPYC, said in the statement. [Photos: Pioneering Animals in Space]

This does not mean that the researchers will be able to see exactly when each baby turtle or a songbird eats, makes a sound or takes a step, but the researchers will have a much more detailed picture of how these populations are worn.

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For this particular data, transmitters attached to the animals in the field sends a packet-data from 223 bytes to the antennas on the space station. Data packets are sent about four times per day, or each time when a station is the station beam, the researchers explained in the statement. After it is received at the space station, the data will be sent to the researchers on the ground.

The transmitters send data on everything from individual animals’ acceleration; their adaptation to the Earth’s magnetic field; and specific and moment-to-moment circumstances, such as ambient temperature, barometric pressure and humidity, according to the statement. The beginning of 2019, the team hopes to have 1,000 of these stations in the field, and the researchers hope to eventually grow that number to 100,000. The beginning of 2019, researchers will be able to start with the analysis of the collected data.

“In the past, the tracking of the studies have been limited to, at best, a few dozen at a time followed individuals, and the tags were large and readouts precious,” Walter Jetz, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale and co-director of the MPYC, said in the statement. “In terms of the size and the cost, I expect ICARUS to exceed what is already-to-date with at least an order of magnitude and, ever, possible for multiple orders. This new tracking system has the potential to transform multiple fields of research.”

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