A view from the International Space Station of Earth taken by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst during his six-month Blue Dot mission.
ESA/NASA

Week in Geek - Eyes in the Sky edition

The International Space Station will soon have a new function: animal tracker. Next summer, an experiment called ICARUS (International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space) will be installed on the ISS to track the migration of a range of species on Earth.

Scientists have been tagging and tracking animals with radio transmitters and receivers for decades, but most methods in use are labor intensive, only practical for small numbers of animals, and expensive. Now, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany have devised a way to solve at least two of these problems. They have designed a small radio tag with GPS and its own solar array that can be attached to individual animals that weight as little as a quarter of a pound. These tags will not only record the location of the animal, but also how fast it moves, the temperature of its environment, and even the light it received (sunlight or artificial). Additionally, the tags will be able to transmit their data and not just passively store it.

The placement of ICARUS aboard the ISS will allow for near constant monitoring of thousands of species in real-time. This project has the potential to transform our understanding of migratory species and provide information for how and where to develop infrastructure that doesn’t impinge on their travel. There’s even speculation that data from ICARUS could reveal how virus and pathogens move across our planet and provide an early detection system for when particular ecosystems are in danger.

For more about this fascinating experiment, check out this article by Ed Yong and hop over to the ICARUS homepage.

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@Summer_Ash, In-house Astrophysicist

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Week in Geek - Eyes in the Sky edition