Satellite Sensing: Temperature and Reflectance

Satellites are used for communication, observing space (the solar system and beyond), and making measurements of the Earth. Satellite-based Earth observation provides a way to quickly measure large areas of the planet. These satellites can provide maps of temperature, reflectance, and other properties that are import for understanding the Earth's climate.

The DICCE project provides a collection of lesson activities involving satellite data.


  • Arduino Uno or SODAQ
  • Grove BLE device
  • Android phone or tablet running Manylabs software
  • Remote infrared temperature sensor
  • Air temperature sensor
  • Digital light sensor


  1. Prepare the Arduino.
    • Connect the BLE device to pin D2
    • Connect the IR temperature sensor to pin A0
    • Connect the air temperature sensor to pin A2
    • Connect the digital light sensor to an I2C plug
  2. Prepare the phone/tablet.
    1. Open the Manylabs software
    2. Add each sensor using the Add Sensor button
  3. Explore the sensors.
    1. What happens when you place the light sensor in the sun? What if you cover it with your hand? What if you cover it with paper?
    2. Place the air temperature sensor against your hand and against the outside of a cup of ice water (do not get it wet). Do the readings make sense?
    3. Point the IR sensor at a table, a cup of ice water, and your hand. What happens if you point it at a window? Is it measuring the temperature of the window or what is outside the window?
  4. Make measurements outside.
    • Try these locations:
      1. Over dark pavement
      2. Over light pavement/cement
      3. Over an area of grass
      4. Over a large sheet of white paper
    • At each location make the following measurements:
      1. IR temperature of the surface
      2. Air temperature 10 cm above the surface
      3. Air temperature 1 meter above the surface
      4. Light level with sensor pointing down at surface
      5. Light level with sensor pointing up to the sky
    • Record your data in a notebook or online spreadsheet.
  5. Write about your observations. Below are some questions you could answer.


  • What is the range of observed surface temperatures?
  • What is the range of observed light sensor values?
  • Are all the numbers valid or were there mistakes/problems with some measurements?
  • What is the relationship between surface temperature and air temperature at 10cm and 1m?
  • What is the difference between incoming light (from the sky) and reflected light (from the ground)? How do the materials change the amount of reflected light?
  • What is the relationship between reflected light and surface temperature?
  • Do you think snow/ice reflect more light than water/earth? What happens if the snow/ice levels decrease each year?

Other Experiments

  • Use the DICCE resources to explore actual satellite data. How does this data relate to your observations?
  • Use an UV (ultraviolet) light sensor to compare visible, UV, and IR levels. What materials absorb and reflect these different wavelengths?
  • Use a CO2 sensor to measure CO2 levels inside and outside your school/home. Research how CO2 changes Earth temperatures. How does this process relate to reflectance?
  • Use a dust sensor to measure particulate levels over the course of several days. How do the particular levels change with time of day? What is the effect of particulates on atmospheric reflectance?


If you need any help with this project, contact