NASA and SpaceX launch a new instrument for the ISS to study dust

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A Payload making its way to the International Space Station could help researchers back on Earth finally solve a climate mystery that’s stymied scientists for years. NASA launched the Thermosphere, a crucial instrument in its climate research. Investigation into Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source (EMIT), aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft Thursday night from the Kennedy Space Center.

NASA has set out to study dust in the atmosphere. It is a powerful and surprising force. Dust particles are tiny particles that rise from deserts or other arid areas. Depending on many factors, they may cool. OderThe warming effect on the planet. Scientists are still unable to determine if this scenario is really occurring.

“EMIT is studying mineral dust because it’s currently an unknown element,” Robert Green, EMIT’s principal investigator and Jet Propulsion Laboratory senior research scientist, said at a Briefing on July 13thThe mission. “Not just the magnitude of how much it heats or cools, but whether it heats or cools is uncertain.”

Dust particles can come in many colors, which is why it is so mysterious. Iron might cause it to be dark red. Clay dust particles, however, tend to be lighter in color.

These lighter dust particles will reflect sunlight which helps to cool the planet. On the opposite end of the spectrum, dark dust particles will actually absorb the sun’s energy and have a heating effect instead. Climate change is already a reality Heat things to dangerous levelsFor the sake of life on Earth scientists want to understand if dust is helping to stabilize global temperatures.

That’s where EMIT can help. It will make use of An instrument known as an Advanced Imaging SpectrometerOver the next year, the instrument will collect more than a billion measurements to record the dust composition around the world. This instrument will measure the spectrum of light reflected off the planet’s surface. This will allow scientists to identify whether dust is composed of dark or light mineral particles. Hopefully, that’ll finally solve the mystery of what effect dust has cumulatively on the planet, as well as the heating or cooling effects it might have from region to region.

As depicted in this illustration, NASA’s EMIT will be attached to Express Logistics Carrier 1, a platform on the International Space Station that supports external science instruments.
NASA image

These questions are crucial in building better climate models. Researchers use them to attempt to predict the effects of climate change in the future. For now, climate models generally assume the dust is yellow — averaging a mix of both dark and light-colored dust.

“We wanted to send [EMIT] because of a gap in our knowledge, it relates to climate now and in the future, and that will allow us to have better information to adapt to climate change,” Green said at the briefing.

Beyond climate change, EMIT’s data will also be used to study other phenomena on Earth influenced by dust. Dust can travel thousands miles to reach the Amazon rainforest where it provides nutrients for plants. Dust is also a part of the ecosystem. Cloud formationIt can also affect air quality and water availability. When it lands on snow, it can accelerate snowmelt — which many regions, including the ParchedFreshwater is a major concern in the western US.

The International Space Station’s orbit around the planet is ideal for dust-measuring because it revolves around some of Earth’s most Arid regions. Deserts are the main source of dust that travels the globe. Scientists have had to work in remote areas and harsh conditions to collect dust samples over large areas of ground.

EMIT is among 5,800 pounds of science experiments and crew supplies that will be arriving at the International Space Station around 11:20 ET on Saturday July 16th. It will be ready to start collecting data at the end of July. NASA anticipates that it will begin sharing this information publicly in about two months.

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