Did you know that a billion metric tons of mineral dust – equivalent to 10,000 aircraft carriers – from deserts and dry regions on Earth get carried by strong winds into the atmosphere? Scientists are sure that this dust impacts the environment and climate, but there isn’t enough data to determine exactly how.
This is why NASA is launching the Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT), which will help fill in the gaps in our knowledge. Equipped with a state-of-the-art imaging spectrometer, the machine will collect over a billion global dust-source-composition measurements during the next year.
Here are four things to know about the device launching from the International Space Station this Thursday.
It will identify the composition of mineral dust
It is known that most mineral dust comes from vast desert regions, but due to its size, scientists struggle to collect samples by hand. By analyzing the composition and color of samples from the atmosphere, they can better understand the dust types of each region.
EMIT will figure out if the dust heats or cools the planet
Scientists are currently unsure if the dust has a cumulative heating or cooling impact on the planet due to its range in color. Lighter-colored materials reflect the Sun’s heat and darker colors absorb it. So, if the light is reflected, the planet will be warmed and vice versa. The EMIT will give insight into the colors of the dust and consequently how it is influencing the temperature of the Earth.
It will help understand if dust affects other processes on Earth
The numerous particles in mineral dust can interact with others in the atmosphere and play a role in processes such as cloud formation, ocean composition, and rainfall. The team will analyze the mineral dust composition to assess its effects on these different processes and how influences the health of organisms and ecosystems.
It will help improve climate models
Climate models currently use very imprecise data when accounting for mineral dust as an influencing factor. The EMIT will change this and is expected to improve the accuracy of climate computer modeling, helping us become more prepared for our planet’s future.