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First global maps of the world's moisture content could help track California drought

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA's new Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite, launched from Vandenberg on January 31, 2015, has already sent back its first global maps.

The satellite focuses on soil moisture—liquid or solid—and will likely help develop more accurate long-term forecasts. The images could also help California track the state's ongoing drought conditions.

The SMAP mission is designed to help scientists understand the links between the Earth's water, energy and carbon cycles.

NASA said the satellite was turned to focus on the Earth's surface late last month, with its radar and radiometer components powered up from March 31 to April 3 as part of a test. The first full global maps produced during the testing period are available online at: