It sounds like voodoo, but NASA researcher Friedemann Freund is so convinced he's discovered the secret to predicting earthquakes that he's put up $1 million dollars of his own money to fly a group of satellites into Earth orbit to test his theory. The instruments could be up in as little as two years, looking for small electrical charges that build up as rocks in the planet's crust get strained by the massive forces of plate tectonics. Of course there are a lot of dissenters to Freund's theory, but according to an internal memo leaked to the press in May, other NASA scientists are planning to tell the world later this summer that the idea works.
Freund's theory has been around for years, and it basically goes like this: when squeezed, rocks turn into big batteries. Oxygen molecules in the rocks undergo chemical reactions, which builds up a positive electrical charge. When a big enough section of rock is under a lot of stress, the charge becomes strong enough to cause a disturbance in the planet's ionosphere.
Satellites orbiting in the ionosphere should be able to detect those changes (they may even mess with GPS satellites a bit), and one report says they already have:
Other proponents [of the prediction theory] expect new research confirming their theory will appear later this summer, based on a leaked memo written by Dimitar Ouzounov, a NASA-funded researcher at George Mason University.
On May 2, 2008, Ouzounov was looking for these same infrared light sources and found one over Sichuan province. Ouzounov sent a memo to colleagues reporting his finding, which he said was later leaked to the press.
On May 12 a magnitude 7.9 earthquake struck the Chinese province, killing thousands.
If this proves to be true, it's the holy grail of earthquake research. Imagine being able to predict quakes better than any other natural disaster (when was the last time someone accurately predicted where a hurricane would strike ten days in advance?).
But there are still two big red flags here: 1) if this is so awesome, why isn't NASA falling all over itself to get Freund's satellites in orbit? 2) if Freund has ponied up $1 million in personal cash to see this project through, he's probably going to want to make his money back. Fair enough, but things could get ugly if he builds one of the most potent life-saving technologies ever invented, but holds the information for ransom, charging world governments a subscription fee to protect their citizens from disaster.
Source: Discovery News