Early this morning NASA successfully launched a rocket carrying the Aura spacecraft. Aura will orbit the Earth every 100 minutes at an altitude of 438 miles, and will "see" every place on Earth every sixteen days. Aura's primary mission is to study atmospheric chemistry. The spacecraft has four instruments that go by the romantic names HIRDLS, MLS, OMI, and TES. The first two of these, the High Resolution Dynamics Limb Sounder (HIRDLS) and the Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS), operate somewhat differently than most Earth-observing satellites. Instead of looking straight down on the Earth below, the limb sounders are pointed to look through the atmosphere tangential to the surface. In doing so the instruments can observe the vertical distribution of chemicals such as carbon dioxide, ozone, water vapor, methane, and several other gases and aerosols. Among the questions Aura's instruments will help scientists answer are: Is the ozone layer recovering? What are the meteorological and chemical processes that control air quality? And, how is the climate changing? If all goes well Aura will operate for at least six years.
That Certain Aura
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