IIT-M alumnus helps build satellite to help predict earthquakes

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Dr Krishna Chivukula, an alumnus of IIT Madras, whose mathematical calculations helped build the underlying code of India's rockets is funding a micro satellite at his alma mater that could potentially help planners predict earth quakes.

Seismologists globally have struggled to predict earthquakes as they lack enough knowledge to know when plates collide or brush with each other and how intense is the collision. They only have information of earthquake prone zones - earthquakes concentrate on plate boundaries and much of North India falls into this vulnerable region.

Students at IIT-M who are building the micro satellite, weighing less than 15 kg, say electro-magnetic disturbances in the upper-ionosphere occur naturally in the Van Allen Belts around the earth. When the earth plates collide or rub with each other, they release magnetic energy that would create fluctuations in the electro-magnetic radiation in the Van Allen Belts.

The satellite named IITMSAT will carry a instrument - space-based proton and electron energy detector (SPEED) that would measure fluctuations in the magnetic field, co-relate with data on earth disturbances and would be able to identify the location of the earth quake. It contains a plastic scintillator that measures protons and electrons and share the data to a ground station that will be built at the IITM.

"Typically tremors take around two to three days to have an impact on ground. If we can alert authorities, it is a good period to evacuate people before a catastrophe happens," said Akshay Gulati, project officer of IITMSAT.

The satellite, being built at IIT-M will be tested at Indian Space Research Organisation satellite centre (ISAC) at Bengaluru, before being launched next year on the polar satellite launch vehicle. The satellite, which will ride piggyback with a bigger satellite will be hurled in the low earth orbit to measure these electro-magnetic radiations from earthquakes.

Chivukula, who is funding the Rs 2.5 crore satellite, says that such experiments would help in understanding earth quakes and hopefully, help prevent lives of people.

"The most seismic active zone is in the Indian plate. Imagine, if we have the satellite and are able to predict an earthquake, millions of lives could be saved," said Chivukula, who is also the chairman of INDO-US MM TEC, which makes high precision parts for automobile and smartphone companies globally.


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