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Gravity map shows Earth as potato in space

posted 2 Apr 2011, 02:23 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 2 Apr 2011, 02:25 ]

The European Space Agency (ESA) has released an animated map of Earth's gravity showing that gravitationally, our planet is shaped more like a potato than a sphere.

Called the "Geoid", the map illustrates in unprecedentd detail, the Earth's surface based solely on the variations of gravitational pull that exist from pole to pole.

The scientific term "Geoid" describes the surface of the world's oceans shaped only be gravity and excluding tides and currents. Because the forces of gravity on Earth vary in accordance with the distribution of mass beneath the Earth's surface, the shape of the map shows an unconventional view of the planet based solely on variations of gravitational pull.

The map shows areas with more gravity in yellow and those with less in blue.

Scientists use the "Geoid" in conjunction with other geometric measurements to establish the approximate shape of the Earth's surface.

The ESA's new map was produced from data gathered by their Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) satellite over twelve months. The model was made public at the Fourth International GOCE User Workshop at the Technische Universität München in Munich, Germany on Thursday (March 31).

The geoid is also a crucial tool for measuring sea level change, ocean circulation and ice dynamics, factors affected by climate change.

The gravity data from GOCE are helping to develop a deeper knowledge of the processes that cause earthquakes, like that which devastated northern Japan on March 11.

Because earthquakes create gravity data signatures, the gravity map could be used to understand the processes leading to similar natural disasters and ultimately help to predict them.

The GOCE satellite was launched in March 2009 and has now collected more than 12-months of gravity data.