Friday, August 24, 2012

Taste of Talks About Krishna

                                         Taste of Talks About Krishna
Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.25.25
Bombay, November 25, 1974

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Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
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Nitai: (leads chanting, etc.) "In the association of pure devotees, discussion of the pastimes and activities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is very pleasing and satisfying to the ear and heart. By cultivating such knowledge one gradually becomes advanced on the path of liberation, and therefore he is freed, and his attraction becomes fixed. Then real devotion and devotional service begin."


satam prasangan mama virya-samvido
bhavanti hrt-karna-rasayanah kathah
taj-josanad asv apavarga-vartmani
sraddha ratir bhaktir anukramisyati
 [SB 3.25.25]

So here it is recommended, satam prasangat, talks between devotees. Satam means devotee, not ordinary person; those who are devotees, sat. Sat and asat. There are two things. Sat means which exists, and asat mean which does not exist -- temporary. That is called asat. This material world is asat. Therefore Vedic injunction is asato ma sad gama: "Don't keep yourself within this material world." (aside:) That child... Asato ma.

So people who are interested in materialistic life, they are called asat. Caitanya Mahaprabhu was asked by a devotee that "What is the behavior of a Vaisnava, of devotee?" Vaisnava means devotee. (aside:) Who is this? Who is making noise? So Caitanya Mahaprabhu, being inquired, "What is the duty of a devotee?" (aside:) ...what is the sound?

Brahmananda: They're doing it purposely.

Prabhupada: Oh, that's all right. That's all right. Never mind. Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, asat-sanga-tyaga, ei vaisnava-acara [Cc. Madhya 22.87]. Asat-sanga-tyaga, ei vaisnava-acara. He, in one line, He said that "First of all, Vaisnava, his business is to avoid the company of asat." Asat means those who are materialistic interest. Asatah. Asato ma sad gama. This is very important thing. We have established this Krsna consciousness society -- means that to avoid the asat-sanga, to avoid the... Of course, we are preaching Krsna consciousness amongst the people who are interested in material subject matter. But we are not associating with them. We are associating with Krsna, because we don't talk anything except Krsna. We are not interested with their business. Everyone is interested with his own business. Similarly, we are interested with our own business, Krsna consciousness business. Even if we go to a materialistic person, we canvass, "Kindly become our member. Kindly read this book. Purchase this book," so we are not going to take their activities. We are trying to bring them in our activities.

So asat-sanga-tyaga, vaisnava-acara. The Vaisnava, he should be always careful not to intermingle, means not to take up their ideas and thoughts. No. That is vaisnava-acara. Asat-sanga-tyaga, ei vaisnava. And why they should be avoided? Asat eka stri-sangi, krsna-abhakta. Who is asat? Asat means those who are very much attached to sense gratification. Sense... The culmination of sense gratification is sex life. So those who are too much attached to sex life, stri-sangi, and krsna-abhakta, and not devotee of Krsna, they are asat. So those who are actually serious to make advance in spiritual life, they should avoid the asat.

asat-sanga-tyaga-ei vaisnava-acara
'stri-sangi'-eka asadhu, 'krsnabhakta' ara

So if we discriminate like this, then we shall be advancing. Apavarga-vartmani. Taj-josanad asu apavarga-vartmani sraddha bhaktir anukramisyati. Just like if we are diseased, there is infectious disease, epidemic, so we should be careful not to be infected by the infectious disease. Sri Sanatana Gosvami said in Hari-bhakti-vilasa... He has written one book, "The Behavior of the Vaisnava," Hari-bhakti-vilasa. So in that book he has recommended, avaisnava-mukhodgirnam putam hari-kathamrtam, sravanam naiva kartavyam. He has said that "One who is not Vaisnava by his behavior, by his action, by his mode of life, if he speaks something from sastra, especially hari-katha..." Hari-katha means Bhagavad-gita, the Puranas, out of which the Bhagavata, Mahapurana. So we should not hear from a professional reader, or avaisnava, or Mayavadi. Caitanya Mahaprabhu has warned, mayavadi-bhasya sunile haya sarva-nasa [Cc. Madhya 6.169]. If we hear Bhagavad-gita -- that is krsna-katha, hari-katha -- we should not hear from the Mayavadis or avaisnava. Then it will not be effective.

There are so many Mayavadis and avaisnava, they practically do not accept Krsna even the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and they dare to speak on Bhagavad-gita. Just see the fun. He does not accept Bhagavad-gita as it is, and he wants to comment and give his tika. So you'll never derive any benefit. Therefore here it is said, satam prasangat. You should hear Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam from the devotees, not from a third-class man, no. Third class means those who are materialistic. So therefore Caitanya Mahaprabhu has warned that mayavadi-bhasya sunile haya sarva-nasa. If you happen to hear from a Mayavadi, impersonalist, who does not accept Krsna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, or does not know what is Krsna, if such person reads Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, you will never derive any benefit. You can go on hearing them for hundreds of years; still, you will never understand what is Krsna. That is forbidden. Sanatana Gosvami has forbidden, that avaisnava-mukhodgirnam putam hari-kathamrtam. Hari-katha, talks, discussion on Hari, or Krsna, that is amrta. Amrta means nectarine. If one hears, then he gets his amrta. Amrtatvam.

So amrtatvaya kalpate. Amrta means no more birth and death. Mrta means birth and death, mrtyu, but amrta means to stop birth and death. The whole spiritual life means to stop this birth, death, old age and disease, to get amrta, no more birth, no more death. That is the real aim of spiritual life. Of course, as it is stated in the Bhagavad-gita, the spiritual life begins if one is pious, if one is pious. Arto artharthi jijnasuh. Catur-vidha bhajante mam. Krsna said, "Four classes of men..." Catur-vidha bhajante mam sukrtinah arjuna. Sukrti. Sukrti means pious. One who has got background, pious life, not impious life, sinful life, such pious men, out of them, four classes of men, catur-vidhah, they come to devotional life, begins. Who are they? Artah, those who are distress; Artah artharthi, those who want some money; jijnasuh, those who are inquisitive; and jnani. So arto artharthi, they are in the lower grade. And jnani and jijnasuh, they are in the higher grade. But still, they are not pure devotee, because they want something. Artah, the distressed, he comes to Krsna in the temple or in the church to beg something, material profit. That is also good because he has come to Krsna. "Krsna, I am distressed. Kindly save me from this distressed condition." "Krsna, I require some money. Kindly, if You give me some money, I can live very peacefully." Generally. So because they have come to Krsna, therefore they are called sukrtinah. Sukrtinah means pious. And there are others, who are duskrtina, impious, sinful. Na mam duskrtino mudhah prapadyante naradhamah [Bg. 7.15]. They are not even human being who do not accept the authority of the Supreme Lord. Duskrtino mudhah. And they have been described as mudhah. Mudha means rascal, foolish. Real meaning of mudha is ass. So those who are like that, duskrtinah, and full of impious activities, naradhamah, lowest of the mankind, mayayapahrta-jnanah, whose knowledge has been taken away by the illusory energy, na mam prapadyante, they do not accept Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

So in order to become a devotee of Krsna we must associate with devotee. Satam prasangan mama virya-samvidah. Then, by reciprocation with devotees, if one is... One comes to devotee also if one is pious. If something is there on the background, piety, then he comes to a devotee. So by mixing with devotee, by associating with devotee, our knowledge for salvation or getting out of the clutches of this maya, repetition of birth and death, increases. Satam prasangan mama virya-samvidah. The discussion on krsna-katha is viryavan. Just like when there is sex life, if the man is viryavan, there will be pregnancy. Similarly, if we hear from devotee, then immediate action will be there, some inclination that "Why not become Krsna conscious?" That is viryavan. "Why not become Krsna conscious?" That is called sraddha. Sraddha bhaktir anukramisyati. Taj-josanad asu apavarga-vartmani sraddha. This is called sraddha. If, by hearing from the devotees or in the association of devotees, one is inclined, "Now, why not become Krsna conscious?" that is very nice, sukrtinah, immediately the effect of pious activities. Adau sraddha. That is the beginning of spiritual life. And if you want to develop your spiritual life more and more, then satam prasangat, then you have to associate with devotees. Adau sraddha tatah sadhu-sangah [Cc. Madhya 23.14-15].

And sadhu we have described already in three, four verses. The summary -- a sadhu means a devotee. Api cet su-duracaro bhajate mam ananya-bhak. Ananya-bhavena, without any deviation, unflinching, staunch devotee, they are called sadhu. So we have to associate with sadhu. Satam prasangat. When you discuss about Krsna with sadhu or devotees, it becomes very pleasing. Satam prasangan mama virya-samvido bhavanti hrt-karna-rasayanah [SB 3.25.25]. Rasayanah means there is some taste. Just like you eat something; there is some taste. That is called rasa, or mellow. Then... Just like in the Bhagavad-gita Krsna says, raso 'ham apsu kaunteya [Bg. 7.8]. Rasa. Rasa means when you are thirsty, when you drink water, you taste something very nice to quench your thirst. So Krsna has instructed that "To begin with, you can think of Me, aham, while you drink water." It is not difficult. Everyone can practice it, so easy thing. Everyone can practice it. Everyone drinks water, and the rasa, the taste, the nice taste, when you are thirsty, how it is palatable by drinking water. Without water, sometimes we die, and by getting little sip of water, we live. Water is so important. So water, we drink everyone, and there is rasa, that taste. That taste, if we simply think, "Here is Krsna," very easy thing... Raso 'ham apsu kaunteya prabhasmi sasi-suryayoh [Bg. 7.8]. As soon as you see the sunlight in the morning, you can think. Krsna says. Why do you say, "Can you show me God?" God is showing you Himself. Why don't you see it? If you close your eyes, how you can see God? He says, "I am this." According to our position...

Just like here it is said, sraddha ratir bhaktir anukramisyati. Anukrama means gradually, not that all of a sudden you can expect to see God, but you become qualified to see God. This is the way. Sraddha ratir bhaktir anukramisyati. Adau sraddha. Just like with sraddha. Somebody is thinking, "This hari-kirtana is nuisance." They are amongst those, duskrtino mudhah. Those (who) are thinking that this hari-kirtana, hari-katha, which we are trying to spread all over the world, and they are accepting all over the world... And in India, especially here in Bombay, they are sending complaints to the police that we are creating nuisance. Just see the fun. Where Krsna is born and krsna-katha is there, Bhagavad-gita -- we have not imported this book from elsewhere -- now we are so fallen that we are thinking that "This krsna-katha, this chanting of Hare Krsna, is creating nuisance." Just see how much we have advanced after getting independence. They are complaining that we are creating nuisance. Satatam kirtayanto mam yatantas ca drdha-vratah [Bg. 9.14]. Kirtana is recommended in the Bhagavad-gita satatam, always, twenty-four hours. Satatam kirtayanto mam yatantas ca drdha-vratah [Bg. 9.14]. And worshiping the Deity with attention, with care. These things are going on here, and people are complaining we are creating nuisance. Just see. Asat is so dangerous. Therefore we have to create a society of sat. Then the world will be saved. Otherwise they are going to the hellish condition of life.

na te viduh svartha-gatim hi visnum
durasaya ye bahir-artha-maninah
andha yathandhair upaniyamanas
te 'pisa-tantryam uru-damni baddhah
 [SB 7.5.31]

matir na krsne paratah svato va
mitho 'bhipadyeta grha-vratanam
adanta-gobhir visatam tamisram
punah punas carvita-carvananam
 [SB 7.5.30]

So if we want to save ourself-We do not know how to save. Gadurika-pravaha. Gadurika-pravaha-nyaya. There is a logic of gadurika-pravaha. One man is doing something, and another man is following. Of course, if you follow a saj-jana, a devotee, that is very nice. But if you follow a rascal, then you also become rascal. But at the present moment the whole world is full of rascals, mudhah, duskrtinah, naradhamah. "Why do you call mudhah duskrtinah naradhamah? There is so much advancement of education. There are so many universities, so many degrees." But Krsna says, mayayapahrta-jnanah: [Bg. 7.15] "Their so-called knowledge has no value because the essence of knowledge is taken away by the illusion." "Now why you say? They are educated. No, their knowledge has been taken away? Why? What is the reason?" The reason is asuram bhavam asritah: "They have taken to the nonsense philosophy of godlessness." That's it. For this reason their so-called education, university education, degrees, are simply illusion of maya.

Bhaktivinoda Thakura has sung one song, jada-vidya jato, mayara vaibhava. This material education without God consciousness is expansion of the influence of maya. Jada-vidya jato, mayara vaibhava, tomara bhajane badha. They are simply impediments in the matter of advancing Krsna consciousness. Tomara bhajane badha. Anitya samsare. And why? Now, result of godless material education means that anitya samsare moha janamiya. We are already illusioned. Anyone who has come to this material world, he is illusioned. But advancement of so-called material education means the increasing of the same illusory propaganda. Jada-vidya jato, mayara vaibhava, tomara bhajane badha, anitya samsare moha janamiya. They are trying to become happy in this temporary material life. He has forgotten that he is eternal. Even if we become very happy, temporary life in this life, that will also illusion because we will not be allowed to stay and enjoy the status. But they do not understand.

So these things are to be understood in the association of devotees. A devotee knows everything. Tattva-darsinah.

tad viddhi pranipatena
pariprasnena sevaya
upadeksyanti te jnanam
jnaninas tattva-darsinah
 [Bg. 4.34]

Tattva-darsi means who has actually seen the truth. Om tat sat. One who has seen the Supreme Truth. That Supreme Truth is Krsna. Therefore Krsna says that "You are searching after the truth. You are studying the Vedic literature, Vedanta-darsana. That is very good. But what is the goal of Vedanta-darsana?" Veda means knowledge, and anta means the end, Vedanta, the ultimate knowledge. What is that? Vedais ca sarvair aham eva vedyah [Bg. 15.15]. Krsna says that "If you are actually studying Vedanta, then ultimately you have to understand Me." Vedais ca sarvair aham eva vedyo vedanta-krd veda-vid eva caham: "I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I understand. I am the knower of Vedanta." So if you hear from Krsna what is Krsna, that is actually understanding Vedanta. If you do not understand Krsna and if you simply advertise yourself Vedanti, that will not help you.

Therefore, without this knowledge, there is... They have been called in the Bhagavad-gita as mudhah. Mudho 'yam nabhijanati, mohitam [Bg. 7.25].

tribhir gunamayair bhavair
ebhih sarvam idam jagat
mohitam nabhijanati
mam ebhyah param avyayam
 [Bg. 7.13]

The mudhas, they do not know it. So anyone who is in this material world, more or less, we are all mudhas. This morning I was walking while walking on the beach. More or less, we are all mudhas. Without being mudhah, nobody comes here in this material world. Beginning from Brahma down to the small ant, we are all mudhas of different degrees. So in order to become really learned, not to remain mudha, we have to associate with devotee. Satam prasangan mama virya-samvidah. Then it will be relishable. Relishable. Satam prasangan mama virya-samvidah. When it is relishable... Actually, when you take some foodstuff, if it is relishable, it gives you contentment, "Oh, very nice food." So bhavanti hrt: "It is pleasing to the heart." "Oh, such a nice food." And pleasing to the tongue. Similarly, when krsna-katha is discussed amongst the devotees, it is pleasing to the heart and pleasing to the ear. Unless you taste, relish something through the ear and through the heart, how you can steadily follow krsna-katha? So that requires little training. And that training is given by the devotees, by their practical life, by their daily behavior, their routine work. If we follow, taj-josanat... Josanat means to practice, is it not? What is given, josanat? Cultivation, yes. Cultivation means practice. Practice.

So the acaryas and the devotee, big, big devotees, they have given the routine work for cultivation. Just like we have got this Nectar of Devotion, how to cultivate devotional life. It is being very well received in European, American universities. In some of the universities they have made our Nectar of Devotion as textbook, "The Science of Bhakti." So there is everything. If we want to cultivate bhakti, it is not sentiment. Sentiment, of course, that may remain for some time. But it is a great science. We have to learn it scientifically. That is The Nectar of Devotion, the science of devotional life. So those who are interested, they may kindly read this book, Nectar of Devotion, cultivation. Taj-josanat. And practical cultivation -- if you live with the devotees, in the association, then there will be practical cultivation: to rise early in the morning, to offer mangala-aratrika to the Deity, then study some Vedic literature, then take prasadam, then do this, do that. They go for preaching. Actually, this Krsna consciousness movement, practically showing how to cultivate the devotional life, taj-josanat. And if we do so, then asu. Asu means very soon, without delay, even in this life. Even in this life, not that we have to wait for another life. If we practice devotional service in this life, even for few days, still, it will be a permanent asset.

Tyaktva sva-dharmam caranambujam harer bhajann apakvo 'tha patet tato yadi [SB 1.5.17]. If one takes to devotional service, tyaktva sva-dharmam, giving up his routine duty... Sva-dharma means the brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya, sudra. They have got the all..., or brahmacari, grhastha, vanaprastha. They have got their particular duties. But nobody is following any duty. They are creating their own duty. So anyway, somehow or other, if one takes to Krsna consciousness, tyaktva sva-dharmam caranambujam hareh, and practices for some time regularly, then again, due to bad association or by something, he falls down, so sastra says that "What is the loss? There is no loss. On the other hand, if a person is executing his occupational duties very nicely, but he does not know what is Krsna conscious, then what is the gain? There is no gain." No gain. Even if you become very pious by acting as a strict brahmana or a sannyasi, but if you do not understand what is Krsna, then there is no gain. It is simply waste of time.

dharmah svanusthitah pumsam
visvaksena-kathasu yah
notpadayed yadi ratim
srama eva hi kevalam
 [SB 1.2.8]

This is the verdict of Vyasadeva. Srama eva hi kevalam. You are very nice, executing your occupational duties. Dharmah svanusthitah. Svanusthitah. You are brahmana. That's nice. You are executing the brahmana's duties very nicely, or a ksatriya, or a vaisya, or a medical man, engineer, whatever you may be. That's all right. Dharmah svanusthitah pumsam visvaksena-kathasu yah. But if, by executing your professional or occupational duties, you do not develop Krsna consciousness... That is the main business of human life, Krsna consciousness. So then dharmah svanusthitah pumsam visvaksena-katha... [SB 1.2.8]. Visvaksena-katha means krsna-katha. Notpadayed yadi ratim. If you do not become inclined, sraddha, this sraddha of krsna-katha, then whatever you are doing -- simply wasting your time, and it is a labor of love only, that's all. Srama eva hi kevalam. And a devotee, even if he falls down by chance... There is every possibility of falling down because maya is very strong. And it is a fight against maya. Daivi hy esa gunamayi mama maya duratyaya [Bg. 7.14]. Duratyaya. Maya is very strong. We are getting experience. Some of them are falling down. But still, whatever he has done sincerely, that is a permanent credit of his account.

That is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita, that yoga-bhrastah. Bhrasta means falls down, fallen down. So he has got the asset. Therefore he's not going to the other species of life. He's getting again a human form of life. That is a great profit, because we have to change our body. Tatha dehantara-praptih [Bg. 2.13]. And that... We do not know. Krsna does not say what kind of body, but there are so many, 8,400,000. Any one of them can happen. But a devotee who has fallen down, he is guaranteed again human life. And what kind of human life? Sucinam srimatam gehe yoga-bhrasto 'bhijayate [Bg. 6.41]. He'll get a life, human being, in a very rich family or in a very pious family. Those who are more advanced, they will get their next birth in a pious brahmana family, very pure brahmana family or Vaisnava family. That is called sucinam. And srimatam. Sri means wealth or beauty. Very rich family, beautiful body he will get. So those who have got their birth in high-class brahmana Vaisnava family and those who have got their birth in rich very aristocratic family, they should consider that "This advantage is given to me by Krsna. Because in my last life I could not finish my business of bhakti-yoga, now I have got it." Therefore I said to the Americans that "You have got wealth; you have got education; you have got beauty. This is the asset of your pious life. Now you utilize it for Krsna consciousness. Then your life is perfect." So not only in America, everywhere, it is not easy that one man is born immediately very rich and one man is born in very poor family or very ugly family. There is distinction. There is some superior authority. It is not accident. Karmana daiva-netrena jantur dehopapattaye [SB 3.31.1]. A living entity gets his body by superior administration, by nature's quality. There is big science.

So if you become Krsna conscious, then your life is secure, guaranteed. If you make complete the Krsna conscious life in this life, then tyaktva deham punar janma naiti mam eti [Bg. 4.9]. That is wanted. But don't be neglectful. Those who have taken to Krsna consciousness, they should be very serious. Why should you take another chance of getting birth in a very rich family or a brahmana family? That is also risky because it is not guarantee. Because generally, those who are rich, they don't care for Krsna consciousness. "Oh, this Krsna consciousness is meant for the poor fellow." Or if somebody is born in a brahmana family, he is also puffed up. He is thinking, "Oh, these are mlecchas, yavanas, Americans. Oh, I am brahmana. I am born in a very high family." That is a cause of falldown, yes, proud, pride, unnecessary pride. A Vaisnava is very humble. Trnad api sunicena taror api sahisnuna amanina manadena. We have already discussed. Titiksavah karunikah suhrdah sarva-dehinam [SB 3.25.21].

So these are the chance, human being, and there is Krsna consciousness movement, there is Krsna, Krsna is advising personally -- so many opportunities offered by this Krsna consciousness movement. Why don't you take it? If you don't take it, then you are committing suicide.

Thank you very much. Hare Krsna. (end)
>>> Ref. VedaBase => Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.25.25 --  Bombay, November 25, 1974
© 2001 The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International.

US Prison Population: The Largest in the World

The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world—more even than China or Russia. Prof. Daniel J. D'Amico explains that as of 2010 more than 1.6 million people were serving jail sentences in America. Professor D'Amico suggests that "prisons are not what we think about when we think of America, and they shouldn't have to be." According to D'Amico, a free country should not have 1.6 million people in prison, and a fiscally responsible country cannot afford to. As Prof. D'Amico points out, it is time for Americans to recognize that the U.S. criminal justice system is desperately in need of reform.

Learn More:

1. "The Caging of America" [article]: Wide ranging New Yorker piece, discusses history, ethics, everyday prisoner experience. Explores a few theories as to why our prison system is the way it is.

2. "The Business Ethics of Incarceration: The Moral Implications of Treating Prisons Like Businesses" [scholarly article]: Professor D'Amico addresses the economics and morality of prison and prison privatization.

3. "U.S. prison population dwarfs that of other nations" [article]: New York Times article focusing on America's disproportionate prison population.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

India’s gravity field is unique-Physics Proof

India’s gravity field is unique-Physics Proof

Europe launched a special satellite called Gravity field and steady state ocean circulation explorer ( Goce) in 2009 .The satellite contained very sensitive instruments for measuring the subtle gravitational force in various parts of the world. The results were presented two days ago at the Earth symposium in Norway and the results are simply stunning.
India is different from rest of the world and shares a very intense gravity field. The ancients always called India ” Karma Bhoomi ” and America was called ” Bhoga Bhoomi “. Now this is the final proof for that statement. It is said any religious ceremony done in the Usa is not of much use due to it being a Bhoga bhoomi and any activity done in India yields multifold results . Also gravity is an important factor that is considered in Agama sastra for proper construction of Temples.Also the western countries will work well for a person who has an exalted sun in one’s horoscope , their fame will be found in those countries. Vedic astrology does a good job of predicting which country would suit oneself in the pursuit of a career. For spiritual purposes nothing beats the Indian soil for any kind of sadhana.
Notice only India has a very different gravity field
It is one of the most exquisite views we have ever had of the Earth.
This colourful new map traces the subtle but all pervasive influence the pull of gravity has across the globe.
Known as a geoid, it essentially defines where the level surface is on our planet; it tells us which way is “up” and which way is “down”.
It is drawn from delicate measurements made by Europe’s Goce satellite, which flies so low it comes perilously close to falling out of the sky.
Scientists say the data gathered by the spacecraft will have numerous applications.
One key beneficiary will be climate studies because the geoid can help researchers understand better how the great mass of ocean water is moving heat around the world.
The new map was presented here in Norway’s second city at a special Earth observation (EO) symposium dedicated to the data being acquired by Goce and other European Space Agency (Esa) missions.
Europe is currently in the midst of a huge programme of EO development which will see it launch some 20 missions worth nearly eight billion euros before the decade’s end.
The Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer (Goce) is at the front of this armada of scientific and environmental monitoring spacecraft.
Imaginary ball
Launched in 2009, the sleek satellite flies pole to pole at an altitude of just 254.9km – the lowest orbit of any research satellite in operation today.
The spacecraft carries three pairs of precision-built platinum blocks inside its gradiometer instrument that sense accelerations which are as small as 1 part in 10,000,000,000,000 of the gravity experienced on Earth.
This has allowed it to map the almost imperceptible differences in the pull exerted by the mass of the planet from one place to the next – from the great mountain ranges to the deepest ocean trenches.
Two months of observations have now been fashioned into what scientists call the geoid.
“I think everyone knows what a level is in relation to construction work, and a geoid is nothing but a level that extends over the entire Earth,” explained Professor Reiner Rummel, the chairman of the Goce scientific consortium.
“So with the geoid, I can take two arbitrary points on the globe and decide which one is ‘up’ and which one is ‘down’,” the Technische Universitaet Muenchen researcher told BBC News.
In other words, the map on this page defines the horizontal – a surface on which, at any point, the pull of gravity is perpendicular to it.
Put a ball on this hypothetical surface and it will not roll – even though it appears to have “slopes”. These slopes can be seen in the colours which mark how the global level diverges from the generalised (an ellipsoid) shape of the Earth.
In the North Atlantic, around Iceland, the level sits about 80m above the surface of the ellipsoid; in the Indian Ocean it sits about 100m below.
The geoid is of paramount interest to oceanographers because it is the shape the world’s seas would adopt if there were no tides, no winds and no currents.
If researchers then subtract the geoid from the actual observed behaviour of the oceans, the scale of these other influences becomes apparent.
This is information critical to climate modellers who try to represent the way the oceans manage the transfer of energy around the planet.
But a geoid has many other uses, too. Having a global level underpins a universal system to compare heights anywhere on Earth.
In construction, for example, it tells engineers which way a fluid would naturally want to flow through a pipeline.
Geophysicists will also want to use the Goce data to try to probe what’s happening deep within the Earth, especially in those places that are prone to quakes and volcanic eruptions.
“The Goce data is showing up new information in the Himalayas, central Africa, and the Andes, and in Antarctica,” explained Dr Rune Floberghagen, Esa’s Goce mission manager.
“This is, in one sense, not so surprising. These are places that are fairly inaccessible. It is not easy to measure high frequency variations in the gravity field in Antarctica with an aeroplane because there are so few airfields from which to operate.”
Goce’s extremely low operating altitude was expected to limit its mission to a couple of years at most. But Esa now thinks it may be able to continue flying the satellite until perhaps 2014.
Unusually quiet solar activity has produced very calm atmospheric conditions, meaning Goce has used far less xenon “fuel” in its ion engine to maintain its orbit.
Ultimately, though, that fuel will run out and the residual air molecules at 255km will slow the satellite, forcing it from the sky.