Here's everything you need to know about the EU's Sentinel Earth-watching mission

Sarah Spickernell
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Sentinel-2a will watch vegetation changes (Source: Getty)
Late last night, the EU launched the Sentinel-2a satellite into space, from where it will take detailed photos of the world's food crops.
The satellite was developed by the European Space Agency, and was sent up from Kourou in French Guiana aboard a Vega space rocket. Actual work is expected to begin in three or four months, once the machine has been checked thoroughly.

It's part of a wider Earth-monitoring mission by the EU called the Copernicus programme, which is costing billions of pounds to carry out.
So what exactly does the EU hope to achieve by monitoring the Earth's crops so closely? And how does it plan to do it? Here's everything you need to know about the mission.

Sentinel-2a will give us a better understanding of food health

By sending detailed analyses of crop spread and health back to Earth, the satellite will help agriculture and food agencies be better prepared for poor harvests and possible famine.

It will be useful to monitor natural disasters

Natural disasters such as volcano eruptions and earthquakes have serious impacts on the local habitat, so the satellite's monitoring abilities will help the world prepare for similar events in the future.

It will use infrared to take more accurate images

Sentinel-2a has extremely powerful picture-taking abilities, thanks to a sensitive camera sensor that can detect specific wavelengths.
It will send images back to Earth that span both the visible and infrared parts of the light spectrum, giving a more accurate view of how healthy plants are.

There's a whole series of Sentinels

The whole Copernicus project involves sending six different Sentinel satellites into space over the next few years, each with a unique type of sensor.
Sentinel-1a was launched over a year ago in April 2014, and specialises in detecting land movements. It has already helped scientists gain a better understanding of the Nepal earthquake earlier this year.
The next one to be launched will be Sentinel-2b at the end of next year. Other measurements to be made by different satellites include growth of megacities, spread of disease and the effects of deforestation.

What is the Copernicus programme looking at?

- Agriculture data

- The spread of megacities

- Disease spread

- Events after a natural disaster

- Wildlife biodiversity

- Water flows and flood risks

- Snow fields and glacier melting

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