Coronavirus. The virus we are all talking about, and you are probably thinking about. The new strain of the coronavirus is spreading fast around the world – but one place you won’t need to read about the coronavirus is here on the Under Lucky Stars blog right?
This is a space for news relating to astronomy, space and the stars themselves. Wrong – the coronavirus is now part of space news too. Since being declared a Global Pandemic by the WHO, the effects of the new coronavirus epidemic or “COVID-19” are causing ripples around the world that can even be seen from space.
That’s right. Not only is the coronavirus pandemic turning global markets upside down, causing cities and the whole of Italy to go into lockdown, but the stark isolation and its effects on the atmosphere have actually been monitored by space satellites.
Data from European and US satellites has shown the dramatic effect on air following the mass quarantine. In China, levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) dropped to their lowest levels in living memory. The freezing of entire industries (factories of cars stopping production, power plants grinding to a halt and cars off the road) have resulted in an unprecedented dip in NO2 in the atmosphere.
While virologists are still piecing together the full picture of the novel coronavirus and pharmaceutical companies around the world are racing to get a vaccine to market, the virus is having a very visible effect on our planet. Like other airborne viruses such as SARS and MERS, COVID-19 was transmitted from bats, to other animals to humans. The hyperinterconnected modern world in which we coexist and travel is the perfect environment for viruses such as COVID-19 to move around human hosts.
Major international conferences and sporting events are being cancelled in order to contain the virus. The European Southern Observatory has temporarily closed its facilities and cancelled upcoming space-related events and conferences. NASA has closed its Ames Research Center in California and is urging staff to telework where possible, following the infection of one NASA employee.
The satellites orbiting earth gather data which is then collated and analyzed by science firms and used at the corporate level to make environmental, business and even financial decisions. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the stock markets haywire as consumer patterns change, major industry events are cancelled and the tourism industry slowly trickles to standstill.
The before and after satellite images show the glaring effects of the virus, in the easiest game of “spot the difference”. Parking lots of manufactured vehicles or taxi ranks in airports that were once a solid block of colour – empty. City plazas like Tiananmen Square in Beijing or Piazza del Duomo in Milan, once bustling with people and a hive of activity – no one in site.
Satellites photos show Disneyland in Tokyo void of people, Mecca in Saudi Arabia and the area around Milan Cathedral, once heaving with worshippers now just a handful photographed. As more and more people begin to work from home, as public institutions close around the world, so space will tell the story of COVID-19.
If you are choosing or forced to stay home for a few weeks, take advantage of the unusally clear skies above and watch the stars. See if you can spot these 5 constellations?
Let us try to stop the virus spreading by staying indoors, avoiding close contact with people and practicing good hygiene. We hope you are Under Lucky Stars in this difficult time.