Press Release

NASA Plans to Put an Aura Around the Earth

By SpaceRef Editor
May 17, 2004
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On June 19, NASA will launch Aura, a next generation Earth-observing
satellite. Aura will supply the best information yet about the health
of Earth’s atmosphere.

Aura will help scientists understand how atmospheric composition
affects and responds to Earth’s changing climate. The satellite will
help reveal the processes that connect
local and global air quality. It will also track the extent to which
Earth’s protective ozone layer is recovering.

Aura will carry four instruments designed to survey different aspects
of Earth’s atmosphere. The instruments will provide an unprecedented
and complete picture of the
composition of the atmosphere. Aura will survey the atmosphere from
the troposphere, where mankind lives, through the stratosphere, where
the ozone layer resides and protects
life on Earth.

Aura’s space-based view of the atmosphere and its chemistry will
complete the first series of NASA’s Earth Observing System satellites.
The other satellites are Terra, which
monitors land; and Aqua, which observes Earth’s water cycle.

“Gaining this global view of Earth will certainly reap new scientific
discoveries that will serve as essential stepping stones to our
further exploration of the Moon, Mars and
beyond, the basis of the Vision for Space Exploration,” NASA
Administrator Sean O’Keefe said.

Aura will help answer key scientific questions, including whether the
ozone layer is recovering. Aura data may prove useful in determining
the effectiveness of international
agreements that banned ozone-depleting chemicals like
chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

Aura will accurately detect global levels of CFCs and their
byproducts, chlorine and bromine, which destroy ozone. Aura will also
track the sources and processes controlling global and regional air
quality. It will help distinguish between natural and human-caused
sources of these gases. When ozone exists in the troposphere, it acts
as an air pollutant.
Tropospheric ozone is linked to high levels of precursors such as
nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and volatile hydrocarbons. Aura will
help scientists follow the sources of
tropospheric ozone and its precursors.

“Aura, the first comprehensive laboratory in space to help us better
understand the chemistry and composition of the Earth’s atmosphere, is
fundamentally a mission to understand and protect the very air we
breathe, ” said NASA Associate Administrator for Earth Science Dr.
Ghassem Asrar. “It is also a perfect complement to our other Earth
Observing System satellites that, together, will aid our nation and
our neighbors by determining the extent, causes, and regional
consequences of global change.”

As the composition of Earth’s atmosphere changes, so does its ability
to absorb, reflect and retain solar energy. Greenhouse gases,
including water vapor, trap heat in the
atmosphere. Airborne aerosols from human and natural sources absorb or
reflect solar energy based on color, shape, size and substance. The
impact of aerosols, tropospheric ozone and upper tropospheric water
vapor on Earth’s climate remains largely unquantified. Aura’s ability
to monitor these agents will help unravel some of their mystery.

Aura’s four instruments, the High Resolution Dynamics Limb Sounder;
the Microwave Limb Sounder; the Ozone Monitoring Instrument; and the
Tropospheric Emission Spectrometer will work together to provide
measurements in the troposphere and stratosphere to help answer
important climate questions.

The High Resolution Dynamics Limb Sounder was built by the United
Kingdom and the United States. The Ozone Monitoring Instrument was
built by the Netherlands and Finland in collaboration with NASA.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., constructed the
Tropospheric Emission Spectromer and Microwave Limb Sounder. NASA’s
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., manages the Aura mission.

NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise is dedicated to understanding the
Earth as an integrated system and applying Earth System Science to
improve prediction of climate, weather, and
natural hazards using the unique vantage point of space.’

SpaceRef staff editor.