NASA has a new tool to monitor Earth’s climate, with the EMIT instrument aboard the International Space Station (ISS) taking its first measurements this week. The Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation mission maps the movements of dust particles across the planet to help understand how they affect temperatures.
The EMIT hardware arrived at the ISS earlier this month and was installed using the station’s Candarm2 robotic arm in a 40-hour process between July 22 and July 24. The instrument sits outside the space station from where it can collect data on Earth, and you can see a time-lapse video of its setup above.
The instrument took its first measurements at 10:51 p.m. ET (7:51 p.m. PT) on Wednesday, July 27, as it passed over an area of Western Australia. The mission is designed to measure the composition of mineral dust in the region, as it is important to understand what particular dust patches are made of in order to monitor their effects on temperature. This is because darker dust particles absorb heat, but lighter colored particles reflect heat, so the effects of dust on temperature may depend on its composition.
EMIT takes measurements using an instrument called a spectrometer, which can determine the composition of targets by looking at the wavelengths of light they emit. In the first data collected, you can see indications of different terrain features including soil, vegetation, fields, and water in the form of a river and clouds.
With the spectrometer now collecting data, engineers will verify that everything is working as expected before beginning measurements of the main mission of mineral dust particles in August. It will focus on measuring 10 different types of minerals, including rock-forming minerals like dolomite and calcite, and will focus its observations in very arid regions of Africa, Asia, North America and South and Australia.