'Seeing the Sun in 1,000 different colours': NASA to study impact on Earth's ozone
Light that is visible to the human eye, as well as light that isn’t, is made up of a combination of many different colours or wavelengths. (NASA Earth/Twitter)
Jackie Dunham, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, December 7, 2017 12:21PM EST
NASA is set to launch a new mission that will examine how the Sun’s energy affects the Earth’s atmosphere with a new instrument capable of seeing more than 1,000 different wavelengths of light.
The Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS-1) will be launched to the International Space Station (ISS) this month in an effort to measure the total amount of sunlight that reaches the top of the Earth’s atmosphere. The goal is to study how sunlight affects the ozone layer, the natural protective barrier that prevents ultraviolet radiation from harming life on Earth.
The TSIS-1 will view different types of ultraviolet (UV) light, including UV-B and UV-C.
“UV-C rays are essential in creating ozone. UV-B rays and some naturally occurring chemicals regulate the abundance of ozone in the upper atmosphere. The amount of ozone is a balance between these natural production and loss processes,” NASA said in a recent press release.
Thinning or loss in the ozone layer from man-made chemicals has allowed some UV-B rays to reach Earth, according to NASA. Scientists hope the measurements from TSIS-1 will assist them in monitoring the recovery of the ozone.
“Its [TSIS-1] high-quality measurements will allow scientists to fine tune their computer models and produce better simulations of the ozone layer's behaviour — as well as other atmospheric processes influenced by sunlight, such as the movement of winds and weather,” NASA said.
This is not the first time NASA has studied the total light energy travelling from the Sun to Earth; however, this time around scientists will be able to measure the solar spectrum with three times more accuracy than with previous models, according to Peter Pilewskie, TSIS-1 lead scientist at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.
From its perch on the orbiting ISS , the TSIS-1 will be able to view light along more than 1,000 wavelengths of light, including the entire spectrum that’s visible to humans, as well ultraviolet and infrared.
“We need to measure the full spectrum of sunlight and the individual wavelengths to evaluate how the Sun affects Earth’s atmosphere,” Dong Wu, TSIS-1 project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said in the release.
“Each colour or wavelength of light affects Earth’s atmosphere differently.”
Data collected from the TSIS-1 will help scientists understand fluctuations in the Sun’s solar cycle and its long-term impact on Earth’s climate.
For nearly 40 years, NASA has been measuring how the Sun’s energy powers Earth and shapes its climate. The TSIS-1 will be able to provide scientists with more data for computer simulations used to understand changes in the Earth’s climate.
“Scientists use computer models to interpret changes in the Sun’s energy input. If less solar energy is available, scientists can gauge how that will affect Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, weather and seasons by using computer simulations,” NASA said.
Research looking at the balance between energy coming in from the Sun and energy radiating out from Earth will be bolstered by the data collected from NASA’s new instrument.
“Knowing the Sun’s behaviour and knowing how Earth’s atmosphere responds to the Sun is even more important now because of all the different factors that affect climate change. We need to understand how all of these interact on Earth’s system,” Pilewskie said in another release.