Science

Why NASA wants you to point your smartphone at trees

NASA would like you to take a picture of a tree, please. The space agency’s ICESat-2 satellite estimates the height of trees from space, and NASA has created a new tool for citizen scientists that can help check those measurements from the ground. All it takes is a smartphone, the app, an optional tape measure, and a tree.

Launched in September 2018, the ICESat-2 satellite carries an instrument called ATLAS that shoots 60,000 pulses of light at the Earth’s surface every second it orbits the planet. “It’s basically a laser in space,” says Tom Neumann, the project scientist for ICESat-2 at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. By measuring the satellite’s position, the angle, and how long it takes for those laser beams to bounce back from the…

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