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Limadou, the earthquakes hunter

successfully launched from Chinese base ‘Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center’ the CSES (China Seismo-Electromagnetic Satellite) to develop new methods to study geophysical phenomena such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions on a global scale

Today at 8:51 a.m. (Italian time), the CSES (China Seismo-Electromagnetic Satellite) was successfully launched from Chinese base ‘Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center’, located in the Gobi desert in Inner Mongolia. The Earth observation satellite, realized by the Chinese Space Agency (CNSA), is intended to develop new methods to study geophysical phenomena such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions on a global scale. 

One of the most important instruments on board CSES satellite mission, also known as Zhangheng 1, it’s the high energy particle detector HEPD, realized by Italian researchers of “LIMADOU collaboration”, named after Matteo Ricci, Italian missioner and explorer in China of the 16th century. 

Main purpose of the mission is to investigate, using HEPD detector, the existence of any possible correlation (temporal and spatial) between the occurring of seismic events and the observation of both ion-magnetic perturbations and abnormal precipitation of particles from the inner bands of Van Allen. 

The HEPD instrument will allow us to better investigate Sun-Earth interactions and solar physics phenomena such as coronal mass, solar flares e and Sun’s influence on cosmic rays, through proton and electron fluxes between few and hundreds of MeVs energy ranges. These measures will allow to extend to lower energies the particles spectral ranges currently measured by PAMELA and AMS experiments and to confront these observations with the ones conducted by other international missions such as GOES and ACE. 

“CSES’s launch – has declared Valeria Fedeli Italian ministry of Instruction, University and Research – it’s the result of long hard work and of a high level collaboration between Italian and Chinese scientific communities which extends to various fields and I had the chance to appreciate it during my visit to China last November. Scientific and technological research have major tangible benefits on society as a whole. This is just a first important step towards the stable utilization of space technologies and science in the study of seismic activity, a massive challenge in the understanding of one of the biggest threats known by humanity. CSES is the further demonstration that research and technology are an excellence in Italy and a patrimony that needs to be constantly sustained both financially and organizationally at every level. To invest for the first time 400 million on Prin and to call up a recruitment plan for young researchers, as our government did, it is the best way to invest on our country’s future.” 

Roberto Battiston, Italian Space Agency’s president, said: “it was a great emotion to assist to a perfect launch. We are all waiting to activate the satellite, verify the functioning state of the instruments aboard and to start the calibration procedures to become operative. The Italy-China collaboration has become more and more important in many fields, as already demonstrated by the the agreement on long-term astronaut missions studies signed last year in Beijing. Today’s launch realized the first great Italy-China space mission, a very important fact as underlined by President Sergio Mattarella and President Xi Jinping”. 

According to Piergiorgio Picozza, researcher at the INFN and at the University of Tor Vergata in Rome and P.I. of the Limadou project, “CSES is a highly interdisciplinary mission involving the commitment of numerous Italian research institutions. It will study the structure and dynamics of the upper ionosphere, conducting broad spectrum measurements of the electromagnetic environment, of plasma and of particles near the Earth. In particular, the HEPD detector, through observations combined and coordinated with the other eight instruments on board the satellite, will make it possible to study the mechanisms that connect our planet's internal processes with the dynamics of the regions of charged particles (called Van Allen belts) surrounding the Earth, with the goal of identifying and developing new techniques for seismic monitoring from space”.  

“The newly launched CSES satellite - says Marco Pallavicini, head of the astroparticle physics commission at the INFN - takes an important INFN contribution into space, to an innovative scientific field for the study of earthquakes. In fact, there are several indications that some earthquakes may be preceded by disturbances in the terrestrial ionosphere. These disturbances could, in principle, be observed by means of variations in the ionospheric electrical fields or through variations in the flow of high energy particles. The INFN, in close collaboration with ASI and thanks to ASI's support, has created a high energy particle detector based on technologies already used in the past and, therefore, valid for other missions and has contributed to the development of electrical field sensors. We look forward to the CSES data, so that we can understand whether it will be possible to make an important step forward towards getting a better understanding and even anticipating seismic phenomena in the future”. 

The main Italian participants are the Italian Space Agency (ASI), the National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN) - through its Sections in Bologna, Perugia, Rome Tor Vergata, Naples, the TIFPA Centre in Trento and the National Laboratories in Frascati -, the Universities of Bologna, Rome Tor Vergata, Trento and Uninettuno, plus the National Institute of Astrophysics through the INAF-IAPS institute and the CNR with IFAC. Other significant contributions have also been made by other institutions in the Italian scientific community, such as the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV). 

The whole set of nine instruments installed on the CSES satellite will permit a precise study of the electromagnetic fields and the parameters of plasma in the upper ionosphere, as well as the detection of anomalous particle flows caused by natural and artificial electromagnetic sources in space near the Earth. 

“We are now eagerly awaiting the data from the CSES mission, which will be divulged at the end of the Commissioning phase, from the Space Science Data Center” - says Simona Zoffoli , ASI PM for the LIMADOU programme. “In fact, as well as receiving, storing and processing the data from the Italian instrument, the ASI Centre will also distribute the data obtained from the other instruments resulting from the Chinese collaboration to the scientific community. Therefore, the direction in which ASI's commitment will continue will be that of facilitating access and promoting the widest possible use of data from the space missions.” 

“The launching of LIMADOU represents new proof of the excellent research carried out by our country on an international level and it carries into orbit the significant investment in Italian technologies and science, thus confirming our crucial role in collaboration with China in the field of particle physics and space science”, says Bruno Quarta, director general of INFN, speaking from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. 

The HEPD instrument will also make it possible to carry out a better study of Sun-Earth interactions and phenomena of solar physics, like solar emissions of coronal mass, solar flares and the influence of the Sun on the flow of cosmic rays, through the detection of proton and electron flows within the interval of energies ranging from a few MeV to a few hundred of MeV. These measurements will make it possible to extend to lower energies the range of spectra of the particles currently measured by the PAMELA and AMS experiments and to compare these observations with those conducted by other international missions like GOES and ACE.