10Nov2017

Scientists Just Launched a Satellite to Track Pollution

Image Source: Airbus

In October, the European Space Agency launched a new satellite into orbit, responsible for monitoring climate change. The satellite, Sentinel-5P, was sent into orbit using a Russian Rocket launcher out of northern Russia.

The satellite’s mission is to monitor the Earth’s atmosphere for significant changes. More specifically, it’s designed to detect and measure the amount of various substances building up, including nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide and ozone formaldehyde.

These substances – also known as trace chemicals – are what build up in the Earth’s atmosphere and cause the climate change process. It’s a form of pollution, known to cause many health issues the world over.

What Is the Sentinel-5P?

 The “P” in the satellite’s moniker refers to “precursor” because it indicates what the satellite is structured to be — a stop-gap in the satellite usage process. Older satellites that already exist in the atmosphere will soon be going offline, and that’s when the Sentinel will take over. Scientists planned this for 2021. Following the launch of the initial Sentinel, more will follow, boosting the scanning and detection capabilities of the entire program. We’ll explore that more in a bit. For now, let’s take a brief look at what the 5P model is capable of.

The Sentinel is designed to be both more advanced and more capable than older equipment. It can make up to 20 million observations per day, with a scanning resolution of 10 times more improved than its predecessor. What does this mean?

Simply put, it means that the pollution and particles will be much more visible to scientists and observers than before, allowing them to better pinpoint where a bulk of the pollution is happening on Earth. They can observe cities, harbors, oceans and even wildlife areas. Hopefully, this will amount to broader collections of data, meaning more actionable intel.

It can detect these trace particles and dangerous gases thanks to a unique device called TROPOMI. Dubbed the TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument, the device reads wavelengths of sunlight that are reflected back into space from the Earth. It uses this data to measure the amount of target gases and particles in the atmosphere.

Other things it can measure include weather patterns, map and topography info, oceans and even the planet’s vegetation. It can, for example, tell us the health of certain vegetation in areas around the world. Furthermore, it can detect and monitor volcanic ash, along with high levels of UV radiation. It can also make weather predictions.

What the Sentinel Can Tell Us

All of these elements measured and tracked will tell us more about the planet we live on, including what areas are most dangerous to our health.

The Sentinel satellite was born out of a collaboration between the European Space Agency, Netherlands Space Office and the European Commission. Over the coming years, the crew collectively plans to launch more Sentinel-type satellites, to gather even more info.

Anything collected through the Copernicus program – the name of the program the Sentinel-5P is a part of – will be available free to the public. We can download, view, interact with and use the collected data as we see fit.

Of course, the Sentinel-5P is merely a transitional mission, to bridge the gap between older satellites and those coming in the near future. In the meantime, it will allow scientists – and us – to see how the Earth is dealing with pollution. It should also be able to assess what areas of the world produce the highest amounts of these gases, hopefully allowing us time to prevent further buildup.

photoCredit: Megan Ray Nichols – Science Writer

www.schooledbyscience.com  Contact: nicholsrmegan@gmail.com

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