For all the progress being made in climate science, there remain a lot of gaps in our knowledge. We do not yet fully understand how aerosols (Any fine material suspended in the atmosphere – dust, smoke, ash, etc) affect the atmospheres ability to retain, reflect and transmit heat. NASA’s new Glory satellite, set to launch next month, is designed to help answer some of these questions.
Scientists have a thorough understanding of how greenhouse gases impact the energy budget, but the roles that two other critical elements of the climate system—the sun’s total solar irradiance (TSI) and atmospheric aerosol particles—play are somewhat less certain. The Glory mission, which contains two key scientific instruments, will improve understanding of both.
One of these instruments—the Aerosol Polarimetery Sensor (APS)–will offer scientists new measurements of aerosols, which can affect climate by either absorbing or reflecting light depending on their type. The unique instrument measures polarized light to make aerosol measurements and should thus help scientists distinguish between aerosols types, such as dust and black carbon, from space. The other instrument, the Total Irradiance Monitor (TIM), will continue a long-running record of the sun’s brightness with unprecedented accuracy.
Results from both instruments will be used to fine-tune global climate models and to help scientists predict how climate change will impact different regions of the planet. Glory will join a fleet of other Earth observing satellites known as the A-Train. It is scheduled to launch aboard a Taurus XL launch vehicle no earlier than February 2011.