NASA's EMIT mission will measure dust particles to understand how they affect climate

NASA's EMIT mission will measure dust particles to understand how they affect climate
NASA Worldview

In June NASA will launch the Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT) mission to study how mineral dust or desert dust influence weather, hasten snowmelt, and fertilize plants on land and in the ocean.

According to Robert O. Green, EMIT’s principal investigator and a longtime researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, dust has various characteristics:

Different kinds of dust have different properties – they’re acidic, they’re basic, they’re light-colored, they’re dark – that determine how the particles interact with Earth’s atmosphere, as well as its land, water, and organisms.

Usually, climate models assume that dust is yellow — the average color of all types of dust — but as Natalie Mahowald, EMIT’s deputy principal investigator and an Earth system scientist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York notes that this assumption doesn’t reflect what’s happening in reality.

Located aboard the International Space Station, EMIT's imaging spectrometer will gather information about particle color and composition as the instrument orbits over dry, sparsely vegetated regions.

How it works:

EMIT’s spectrometer receives sunlight reflected from Earth, then divides it into hundreds of distinct colors and records it on a grid of light detectors. The grid has 1,280 columns, each with 480 elements, and every column is effectively its own spectrometer, reading the colors of a soccer-field-size patch of Earth’s surface. Together, the instrument’s detectors can scan a strip of land 50 miles (80 kilometers) wide, at a rate of more than 4.4 miles (7 kilometers) each second.

Using the unique light-reflecting signature of dust, researchers will be able to identify the mineral and chemical composition of substances on the surface.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will launch EMIT from Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX resupply mission. Planned date: June 7th.

More about the mission.