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Space-based dust monitoring instrument takes its first measurements

NASA has a new tool for monitoring Earth’s climate, with the EMIT instrument on board 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.

EMIT (Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation) Gets Installed on International Space Station

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 running between July 22 and July 24. The instrument sits on the outside of the space station from where it can collect data on Earth, and you can see a time-lapse video of its installation above.

This image shows the first measurements taken by EMIT as it passed over Western Australia.
This image shows the first measurements taken by EMIT on July 27, 2022, as it passed over Western Australia. The image at the front of the cube shows a mix of materials in Western Australia, including exposed soil (brown), vegetation (dark green), agricultural fields (light green), a small river, and clouds. The rainbow colors extending through the main part of the cube are the spectral fingerprints from corresponding spots in the front image. The graph on the right shows spectral fingerprints for a sample of soil, vegetation, and a river from the image cube. NASA/JPL-Caltech

The instrument took its first measurements on 10:51 p.m. ET (7:51 p.m. PT) on Wednesday, July 27, while it passed over a region of Western Australia. The mission is designed to measure the composition of the mineral dust in the region, as understanding what particular patches of dust are composed of is important to be able to monitor their temperature effects. That’s because darker dust particles absorb heat, but lighter colored particles reflect heat, so the temperature effects of dust can 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 give off. In the first data collected, you can see indications of different features of the land, including soil, vegetation, fields, and water in the form of a river and clouds.

With the spectrometer now collecting data, engineers will check that everything is working as expected before beginning the main mission’s measurements of mineral dust particles in August. It will be focusing on measuring 10 different types of minerals, including rock-forming minerals like dolomite and calcite, and will focus its observations in highly arid regions of Africa, Asia, North and South America, and Australia.

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Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
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