A mine in Baiyun Ebo, Inner Mongolia, China is the site of almost half the world's rare earth production. China is responsible for over 95% of global production of rare earth elements. These elements are critical ingredients in catalytic converters, cell phones, televisions, lasers, magnets, batteries, and other high-tech gizmos. China's export restrictions have led the US, Japan and the European Union to complain to the World Trade Organization, claiming China was violating trade agreements. The US at one time was a leading producer of rare earths, but most of the mines have been closed. Recently, several US companies are in the process of attempting to re-open these mines and resume mining of rare earths. The image covers an area of 15 x 19 km, was acquired on June 30, 2006, and is located near 41.8 degrees north latitude, 110 degrees east longitude.
With its 14 spectral bands from the visible to the thermal infrared wavelength region and its high spatial resolution of 15 to 90 meters (about 50 to 300 feet), ASTER images Earth to map and monitor the changing surface of our planet. ASTER is one of five Earth-observing instruments launched Dec. 18, 1999, on Terra. The instrument was built by Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. A joint U.S./Japan science team is responsible for validation and calibration of the instrument and data products.
The broad spectral coverage and high spectral resolution of ASTER provides scientists in numerous disciplines with critical information for surface mapping and monitoring of dynamic conditions and temporal change. Example applications are: monitoring glacial advances and retreats; monitoring potentially active volcanoes; identifying crop stress; determining cloud morphology and physical properties; wetlands evaluation; thermal pollution monitoring; coral reef degradation; surface temperature mapping of soils and geology; and measuring surface heat balance.
The U.S. science team is located at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. The Terra mission is part of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C.
More information about ASTER is available at http://asterweb.jpl.nasa.gov/.