Earth Observation Mission News
Ten-year endeavour: NASA's Aura tracks pollutants
15 July 2014
NASA's Aura satellite, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year on 15 July, has provided vital data about the cause, concentrations and impact of major air pollutants. With its four instruments measuring various gas concentrations, Aura gives a comprehensive view of one of the most important parts of Earth - the atmosphere.
When astronaut William Anders flew on the first manned mission to orbit the moon in 1968, he photographed the surreal view of Earth rising above the lunar horizon. "We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth," Anders famously said. Back on the planet though, problems were brewing in the atmosphere.
Exhaust from cars and pollutants like sulphur from power plants masked the sky. In large cities, air pollution caused some people to experience burning in their lungs and eyes. Acid rain contaminated fresh water sources and damaged plant life. Earth's atmosphere was experiencing chemical chaos, but scientists didn't necessarily know the extent or have a detailed explanation. Nevertheless, the U.S. government introduced the 1970 Clean Air Act to reduce some of the pollutants and chemical chaos.
Since then, decades of satellite-based observations have helped researchers understand the chemical processes in the atmosphere that affect human lives in the short-term and long-term.
Image credit: NASA/JPL - Artist's concept of Aura