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The Eyes on Earth Exhibit

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Far beyond the atmosphere of Earth, at orbits ranging from 290 to over 35,400 km (180 to over 22,000 miles) above sea level, circle the satellites of the Earth Observing System (EOS), NASA's primary satellite mission. This small group of human-made scientific observers is constantly scanning our planet--tracking weather, monitoring pollution, creating maps, and gathering information that helps scientists predict storms, monitor forest fires, and study the holes in the ozone layer.

Eyes on Earth is a highly interactive science exhibition produced and developed by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) that focuses on the EOS and examines how satellite observations are made and what we can learn about the Earth using space technology. Designed primarily for families and school groups (upper elementary through adults), visitors learn what a satellite is, discover the different types of orbits, and explore cutting-edge technology similar to that used by EOS scientists. Eyes on Earth brings these concepts "down to earth" through a combination of fun, accessible interactives in a playful and "spacey" environment. The exhibit explores three major areas: Satellites, Orbits, and Satellite Technology.


Explore what makes up a satellite, the different types of satellites, and their functions.

Design a Satellite
Learn about the various satellite components and how they operate by testing different satellite subsystems and then designing your own working satellite. First, stop at several workstations, each one featuring a different satellite subsystem (imaging camera, solar panel, infrared heat sensor, communications transmitter, magnetometer and radar distancing sensor). Test each component to learn how it works and what its function is. Next, at the satellite workstation, design a custom satellite so that it performs tasks of your choice, utilizing the same subsystems you just tested. Actual solar panels are used to help "power" your subsystems. You can test the satellite's overall performance at the central "testing facility" as you transmit data such as video images, infrared images, magnetic field data, and other telemetry to the "testing facility" workstation.

Mission Kiosk
Delve into different EOS missions by selecting from a menu of three short videos which highlight a global issue currently studied by scientists via satellite.

  • The first video focuses on the recently discovered holes in the ozone layer, as well as the ozone itself, and features the Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS).
  • The second video discusses the issues related to urban growth. Utilizing images taken by the LandSAT series of satellites, NASA scientists combine images of urban growth from around the country and the world with other climatological data to determine how rapid urbanization is affecting the surrounding climate and environment.
  • The third video examines the extensive system of satellites NASA uses to track and predict weather. You've probably seen images from these satellites on a television news weather report, but you may not be so familiar with the satellites involved in gathering that information. Data from the east and west Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES), which are constantly monitoring weather from 165E to 15W, is combined with data from a host of other satellites and various other ground-based monitoring stations. This information is sent to weather stations around the country and analyzed by meteorologists to assist them in forecasting weather and predicting the magnitude and locations of storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other catastrophic weather events

Satellite Puzzles
Younger visitors can sit on a solar panel and work on their own satellite! At one of two stylized satellite workstations, they can put together a layered, custom-built satellite puzzle.

  • The first puzzle showcases some of the major satellites used by NASA to observe the Earth. The top layer has a view of the Earth from space, surrounded by six large satellites. Each piece that is taken away reveals the satellite's name and shows how that satellite views the Earth. From infrared, to ultra-violet, to radar altimetry, each piece will uncover a new and vibrant image of our Earth as taken from space. The satellites featured in this exhibit are an EOS satellite, NOAA satellite, Jason-1 satellite, GOES satellite, ADEOS II satellite, and TOPEX/Poseidon satellite.
  • The second puzzle features the Jason-1 satellite, the second satellite to be launched in the highly successful TOPEX/Poseidon mission that measures ocean surface topography. On the top layer, you will see the Jason-1 satellite floating in space. Pull back the pieces to see the satellite's interior!


Gain an understanding of orbits and how scientists use different orbits to accomplish different goals.

Orbit Table
Launch marble "satellites" into "space" at this large orbit table. Choose different launchers with varying launch trajectories to observe different types of orbits, from standard circular types to highly elliptical orbits.

What Goes Around: Near Satellite
How do satellites map the Earth? Turn one of two cranks to send a polar satellite spinning about the Earth. Housed inside a Plexiglas box, a globe of the Earth is spinning on its axis. But this is not just any globe . . . it glows! Coated with a special phosphorescent paint, the surface of the globe lights up as the "satellite" orbits the Earth, leaving a glowing trail that mirrors the path of the "satellite." Track the path along the Earth's surface and watch how the combination of the Earth's rotation and the satellite's orbit allows scientists to observe and scan the entire surface of our planet in just one day!

What Goes Around: Far Satellite
Become a high altitude satellite and discover the science behind geostationary (also called geosynchronous) orbits. At the top of the component, a lighted globe spins on its axis. On the ground, at approximately 1m (3 ft) from the surface of the globe, three projectors beam white light "satellites." The distance between the globe and the "satellites" shows the relative distance a satellite must be from the Earth in order to be in geostationary orbit. By following the "satellites'" path, you become a geostationary satellite! GOES East and West are both geostationary satellites. Most telecommunications satellites are also geostationary.


Explore the cutting-edge technology used by the EOS satellites as they scan, survey, photograph, and monitor the Earth.

TOPEX/Jason-1 Radar Altimeter
Discover how scientists gather data to map oceans and ocean temperatures, which helps them to understand how oceans affect the weather. Stand under the TOPEX/Jason-1 radar altimeter and watch as the satellite passes overhead, measuring your personal "altitude" as well as the height of everything else in its path. Then analyze the data by checking the readout and comparing the various scanned heights. This is the same technique employed by the TOPEX/Jason-1 as it flies above the world's oceans, measuring wave height, wind speeds, tides, ocean heights, and changes in currents.

Hot Or Not
Further explore how satellites measure ocean temperature and create ocean maps by using pixels to create an image. Perform the function of a satellite by using an infrared pyrometer to scan a seemingly blank wall that in actuality is made up of a variety of tiles that are hot, cold, and at room temperature. After scanning the various sections of the wall, transfer that information to a picture grid, creating an infrared image. Learn that when creating ocean maps, the scanned areas are given color codes according to their temperature and are then used like pixels to create a temperature map much in the same way a television screen or computer monitor uses pixels to create an image.

Ozone Zone
What is the ozone layer, what is its importance to the Earth, how do scientists measure it, and why? Watch as a black light changes the color of ultra-violet (UV) sensitive material. Try to block or diffuse the UV rays using your hand, sunglasses, sunscreen, or objects of your own. By testing these "UV filtration systems," discover how the ozone filters out harmful UV rays from the Earth's surface. Copy panels are accented with images taken by satellites, including pictures of the infamous holes in the ozone layer.

The Earth Today
Monitor the Earth at this satellite data station using images from the many Earth Observing System satellites. Track ocean temperatures, wind speeds, glacial changes and tropical rainfall. Maybe you will be the one who detects the climate trend changes heralding the next El Niño or La Niña.

Near and Far
Examine our planet from beyond the upper reaches of the atmosphere. See what it's like to "look through the eyes" of a satellite by searching for landmarks from low and high orbits in front of a 2m by 2m (6 ft by 6 ft) satellite image of Earth. Learn how distance affects the amount of detail in satellite images and how NASA scientists use close-up and wide-angle images to accomplish different scientific goals.

The Bigger the Better
See how important lens size and aperture is to the detail and clarity of a satellite image. Look at the same image through two identical spotting scopes, one of which has had its aperture significantly decreased. Notice how the change in aperture alters image clarity.

Pin Boards
Explore camera resolution by creating images with hands-on pin boards. Expanding on the importance of resolution and pixels in imaging, investigate the effects of resolution as you place objects under varying pin boards, noting the different representations created by different sized pins.

Image Gallery
View stunning photographs and data renderings of the Earth as obtained by various EOS satellites. Beautiful 1.25m by 1.25m (4 ft by 4 ft) images hung on stylized rocket stands along with audio samples of an actual NASA satellite launching mission really enhance the space-like environment. Images include a rendering of a hurricane, the Earth at night, views of the globe from various satellites, space views of natural landmarks, and more! View images from the Eyes on Earth image gallery online.