NASA’s Glory satellite is scheduled to launch in the wee hours of this Friday, March 4th from Vandenberg Air Force Base here in California.
Glory was to lift-off last week, but technical issues with ground support equipment for the Taurus XL launch vehicle postponed the event. NASA says those issues have been resolved and Glory is back on track!
Glory will be an important tool in understanding the Earth’s climate. One of its missions is to detect and measure the small particles in the Earth’s atmosphere called aerosols. Aerosols, or the gases that lead to their formation, can come from vehicle tailpipes and desert winds, from sea spray and fires, volcanic eruptions and factories. Even lush forests, soils or communities of plankton in the ocean can be sources of certain types of aerosols.
The ubiquitous particles drift in Earth's atmosphere, from the stratosphere to the surface, and range in size from a few nanometers, less than the width of the smallest viruses, to several tens of micrometers, about the diameter of human hair.
The particles can directly influence climate by reflecting or absorbing the sun's radiation. In broad terms, this means bright-colored or translucent aerosols, such as sulfates and sea salt aerosols, tend to reflect radiation back towards space and cause cooling. In contrast, darker aerosols, such as black carbon and other types of carbonaceous particles, can absorb significant amounts of light and contribute to atmospheric warming.
Aerosols are short-lived and their impacts are not fully understood. From Scientific American:
NASA climate expert and Glory science team member James Hansen has said the range of uncertainty associated with the climate impact of aerosols is three or four times that of greenhouse gases.
Glory hopes to remedy that uncertainty.
In addition, Glory will monitor variations in solar activity by measuring the amount of radiation that strikes the top of Earth's atmosphere. The sun has been in a relatively quiet phase, even as we head to the solar maximum. The satellite could allow scientists to understand how this and future solar cycles influence climate here on Earth.
As Glory monitors the Earth’s climate, we’ll be monitoring news from the mission. Stay tuned!