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  • EMIT
    A pair of CubeSats will probe a little-studied portion of the radiant energy emitted by the Arctic environmentDust plume blowing off the Sahara Desert A sensor mounted on the International Space Station will determine the mineral composition of natural sources that produce dust aerosols around the world to determine whether this type of aerosol warms or cools the atmosphere. This image shows a dust plume blowing off the Sahara Desert.
    Credit: NASA
02/09/2018 06:54:48

JPL News: New NASA Space Sensors to Address Key Earth Science Questions

NASA selects JPL sensor with team including Caltech's Bethany Ehlmann to map the world's dust sources and determine airborne dust's impact on the climate

Why is the Arctic warming faster than the rest of the planet? Does mineral dust warm or cool the atmosphere? NASA has selected two new creative research proposals to develop small, space-based instruments that will tackle these fundamental questions about our home planet and its environment: The Polar Radiant Energy in the Far Infrared Experiment (PREFIRE), and the Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT). JPL, administered by Caltech for NASA, is a key participant on both instruments.

Bethany Ehlmann, a professor of planetary science at Caltech, is a co-investigator of EMIT, which will use an imaging spectrometer mounted to the exterior of the International Space Station to determine the mineral composition of land surfaces that produce dust aerosols around the world. By measuring in detail, with visible and infrared light, which minerals make up the dust, EMIT will help to answer the essential question of whether this type of aerosol warms or cools the atmosphere.

"As certain regions grow more arid and desert vegetation is cleared, we are seeing more dust in the atmosphere. In order to gauge what impact this has on climate, we need to analyze the mineral make-up of that dust," says Ehlmann, who is also a JPL research scientist. "The data we gather from EMIT will fill in a big blank in current climate models." Ehlmann will work with JPL's Robert Green, the principal investigator of the project.

Meanwhile, PREFIRE will fly a pair of CubeSats—miniature satellites that are cheaper and lighter than traditional satellites—to probe a little-studied portion of the radiant energy emitted by Earth for clues about Arctic warming, sea ice loss, and ice-sheet melting.

These two instruments were competitively selected from 14 proposals considered under NASA's fourth Earth Venture Instrument opportunity. Earth Venture investigations are small, targeted science investigations that complement NASA's larger missions.

Read the full story from JPL News.