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NASA’s Revolutionary Air Quality Monitor – An Eagle’s Eye View of Pollution

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NASA recently sent up a tool called TEMPO into space to circle around the Earth. TEMPO, which stands for Tropospheric Emissions Monitoring of Pollution instrument, is used to keep track of unharmful gases in our atmosphere. Some examples are nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde and ground-level ozone. These gases are one of the main ingredients that create smog.

The TEMPO satellite recently took a journey into space, riding on the back of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that set off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. NASA says everything went smoothly and nothing unexpected happened while they launched it. The signal was fine too and the agency believes that come late May or early June, the satellite will start doing its assigned tasks!

TEMPO is like a satellite that sits in space above the equator. It checks the air quality over North America every hour and is so accurate that it can measure different neighborhoods from just a few miles away. With this new technology, people can have an even better view of the pollution in their areas compared to older methods which only checked about 100 square miles (the size of a small city). TEMPO should be able to give us much more detailed reports on air pollution.

We have the chance to collect a variety of different kinds of data. For example, we can track how bad air pollution is during rush hour and what effect lightning has on the air, as well as observe if smoke from forest fires causes bad air quality, or find out how using fertilizers affects the atmosphere in the long run. Gaining more knowledge about these things is never a bad thing!

TEMPO is one of several powerful instruments sent into space to monitor and measure air pollution levels. South Korea’s Geostationary Environment Monitoring Spectrometer was launched in 2020, which is taking readings over Asia. Then in 2024, the European Space Agency (ESA) will have their Sentinel-4 satellite to cover Europe and North Africa. There will be even more satellites that join TEMPO up there in outer space, including a NASA instrument used for measuring the Earth’s crust.

TEMPO has flown to space on a SpaceX rocket, not the NASA one. This is because the agency wants to try out a new business model where they pay a private company to send important instruments into space instead of sending up their own rocket – which appears to be less expensive.

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