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Starry Nights and Satellites


18 July 2002
Budding astronomers and satellite enthusiasts will be enthralled by the latest advances in knowledge and technology, when they're demonstrated at Southern Cross University's Open Day at the Lismore campus on Saturday, 10 August.

Dr Sumith Pathirana, a Senior Lecturer in Geographical Information Systems and Remote Sensing in the University's  School of Environmental Science and Management, will be demonstrating recent developments in satellite information technology, focusing on the NSW North Coast.

Using recent satellite images of the region, Dr Pathirana will show how these new spatial information technologies are being used in managing our environment.

"Recent advancements in remote sensing of the earth surface from satellites, which are orbiting more than 790 kms above the earth surface, has opened a new era in assessing the status of our fragile environments," Dr Pathirana said.

"The changes we make to forest areas, wetlands, agricultural lands, coral reefs and other marine communities are clearly evident from new satellite images. The information derived from satellite images can be used in producing a resource inventory, monitoring resources, measuring temperature and soil moisture, and producing land cover and land use maps.

"This information is extremely useful for the management of our environment. For instance, combined with geographic information systems, maps produced using satellite data are now being used for mapping areas vulnerable to fire hazards, and can assist fire fighting teams to respond faster and more efficiently.

Dr Pathirana will also present, at the Open Day, an introduction to astronomy through examination of the skies above the NSW North Coast.

"With the development of space technology and the launch of space-based telescopes such as Hubble and Chandra, we are now uncovering some of the secrets of deep space objects, and we'll be able to show local people what our sky currently looks like," he said.

The presentation will include an examination of the solar system, movements of planets around the sun, planets and constellations, as well as some of deep space objects such as galaxies and nebulas which are currently visible to north coast star gazers.

Dr Pathirana has extensive overseas experience in developing catchment data bases using geographical information systems (GIS) and remote sensing, mapping salt affected rice fields, earthquake hazard risk mapping, and assessing the human impact and natural hazard on coastal environments.

He recently produced an extensive report for the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) on the global coastal vulnerability of 118 countries, and provided an index of areas of vulnerability.

The vulnerability of human populations living in coastal areas, due to the changes in coastal landscape and natural hazards, were examined and ranked according to their exposure and capacity to respond, should a natural disaster occur.