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Question
Hi,

I was wondering how we could miss recently disappeared malaysian airlines although we have so many satellites monitoring earth. Are the today's technologies insufficient to monitor airline movements?

Answer
Keep in mind, this is not a physics question.

That said, satellites are not what we use to monitor airplane locations.  We use transponders.  Satellites don't cover every square meter of the Earth all day, every day.  Take the radius of the Earth (6,380,000 meters), square it, multiply by 4*pi (which is about 12.5), and you have the ridiculously large surface of the Earth.  No satellite system can monitor every part of it, every day.  Radio broadcast for satellite phones and GPS, yes, but not satellites.  Most of the Earth goes unobserved most of the time.  That's basic physics.  It would take over 50 million 10 megapixel cameras, all perfectly positioned and not orbiting at about 7.6 kilometers per second, to dedicate one pixel per square meter of the Earth.

So we use more direct and simple methods, like radar and transponders.  I'm surprised that radar doesn't track them, but radar has a limited range and doesn't cover the oceans.  The real problem here is that the crew actually has access to and the ability to deactivate the transponder.  That's a shocker to me, we have the ability to build these transponders into planes and there's never a reason to turn them off at all.  I predict that someone will remove the ability to deactivate the transponders on future flights, but it'll take time.  

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Dr. Stephen O. Nelson

Expertise

I can answer most basic physics questions, physics questions about science fiction and everyday observations of physics, etc. I'm also usually good for science fair advice (I'm the regional science fair director). I do not answer homework problems. I will occasionally point out where a homework solution went wrong, though. I'm usually good at explaining odd observations that seem counterintuitive, energy science, nuclear physics, nuclear astrophysics, and alternative theories of physics are my specialties.

Experience

I was a physics professor at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, research in nuclear technology and nuclear astrophysics. My travelling science show saw over 20,000 students of all ages. I taught physics, nuclear chemistry, radiation safety, vacuum technology, and answer tons of questions as I tour schools encouraging students to consider careers in science. I moved on to a non-academic job with more research just recently.

Education/Credentials
Ph. D. from Duke University in physics, research in nuclear astrophysics reactions, gamma-ray astronomy technology, and advanced nuclear reactors.

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