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NASA’s EMIT: Dust Detective Delivers First Maps From Space for Climate Science

Installed on the space station in July 2022, EMIT orbits Earth about once every 90 minutes, to map the world’s mineral-dust sources. This includes the Sahara, where it recently gathered data in an area of southwest Libya marked by the red box. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Measurements from EMIT, the Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation, will improve computer simulations scientists use to understand climate change.

NASAEstablished in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government that succeeded the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). It is responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research. Its vision is "To discover and expand knowledge for the benefit of humanity." Its core values are "safety, integrity, teamwork, excellence, and inclusion."” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]”>NASA’s Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT) mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS) has produced its first mineral maps, providing detailed images that show the composition of the surface in regions of northwest Nevada and Libya in the Sahara Desert. EMIT was launched to the ISS aboard a SpaceXCommonly known as SpaceX, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. is a private American aerospace manufacturer and space transportation services company that was founded by Elon Musk in 2002. Headquartered in Hawthorne, California, the company designs, manufactures, and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]”>SpaceX Dragon Spacecraft on July 14, 2022.

Windy desert areas such as these are the sources of fine dust particles that, when lifted by wind into the atmosphere, can heat or cool the surrounding air. But researchers haven’t been able to assess whether mineral dust in the atmosphere has overall heating or cooling effects at local, regional, and global scales. EMIT’s measurements will help them to advance computer models and improve our understanding of dust’s impacts on climate.

EMIT scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPLThe Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center that was established in 1936. It is owned by NASA and managed by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). The laboratory's primary function is the construction and operation of planetary robotic spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA's Deep Space Network. JPL implements programs in planetary exploration, Earth science, space-based astronomy and technology development, while applying its capabilities to technical and scientific problems of national significance.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]”>JPL) in Southern California and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) created the maps to test the accuracyHow close the measured value conforms to the correct value.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]”>accuracy of the instrument’s measurements, a crucial first step in preparing for full science operations.

The mineral map shows a part of southwestern Libya, in the Sahara, observed by NASA’s EMIT mission. It depicts areas dominated by kaolinite, a reflective clay mineral that scatters light, and goethite and hematite, iron oxides that absorb heat and warm the surrounding air. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Paving the way for future spectrometers when it was introduced in 1986, AVIRIS – the airborne instrument that succeeded AIS – has studied geology, plant function, and alpine snowmelt, among other natural phenomena. It has also mapped chemical pollution at Superfund sites and studied oil spills, including the massive Deepwater Horizon leak in 2010. And it flew over the World Trade Center site in Manhattan following the Sept. 11 attacks, locating uncontrolled fires and mapping debris composition in the wreckage.


Over the years, as optics, detector arrays, and computing capabilities have progressed, imaging spectrometers capable of resolving smaller targets and subtler differences have flown with missions across the solar system.

A JPL-built imaging spectrometer on the Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1 probe measured signs of water on the Moon in 2009. NASA’s Europa Clipper, which launches in 2024, will rely on an imaging spectrometer to help scientists assess if the icy Jovian moon has conditions that could support life.

Highly advanced JPL-developed spectrometers will be part of NASA’s forthcoming Lunar Trailblazer – which will determine the form, abundance, and distribution of water on the Moon and the nature of the lunar water cycle – and on satellites to be launched by the nonprofit Carbon Mapper, aimed at spotting greenhouse gas point-sources from space.

“The technology took directions that I would never have imagined,” said Gregg Vane, the JPL researcher whose graduate studies in geology helped inspire the idea for the original imaging spectrometer. “Now with EMIT, we’re using it to look back at our own planet from space for important climate research.”
Using image spectrometer technology developed at JPL, EMIT will map the surface composition of minerals in Earth’s dust-producing regions, helping climate scientists better understand the impact of airborne dust particles in heating and cooling Earth’s atmosphere. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

More About the Mission

EMIT was selected from the Earth Venture Instrument-4 solicitation under the Earth Science Division of NASA Science Mission Directorate and was developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is managed for the agency by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California. It launched aboard a SpaceX Dragon resupply spacecraft from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 14, 2022. The instrument’s data will be delivered to the NASA Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center (DAAC) for use by other researchers and the public.

Source: SciTechDaily