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NASA Launches New Satellite to Study Oceans, Atmosphere

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The American space agency NASA has launched a new satellite designed to closely study the world's oceans and atmosphere.

NASA launched the PACE satellite on February 8. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carried PACE into orbit from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA confirmed the launch and reported ground controllers had successfully established contact with the satellite.

PACE stands for Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, Ocean Ecosystem. The satellite will spend at least three years studying the environment from an orbit 676 kilometers above the Earth's surface. NASA officials say PACE will map the entire world each day with two science instruments. A third instrument will collect monthly measurements. Scientists should start getting their first data within one or two months.

Jeremy Werdell is the Project Scientist for the PACE project, or mission. He told The Associated Press he sees the effort providing humans "an unprecedented view of our home planet."

Werdell noted a major goal of the observations is to help scientists improve their ability to predict hurricanes and other severe weather events. He said the instruments can provide detailed data on temperature-related changes happening across the world. The satellite data might help scientists better predict when harmful algae blooms will happen.

NASA says PACE will also study aerosols, or particles in the air. Karen St. Germain is NASA's director of Earth science. She told reporters before PACE's launch that the study of aerosols is important because they can affect clouds. Aerosols can affect the density of clouds, as well as when and how much precipitation the clouds might release.

St. Germain noted existing satellites are not equipped to collect detailed data on aerosols. She said PACE will help NASA learn more about how aerosols affect clouds and climate over long periods. The new data is expected to give scientists "another dimension" of data on how aerosols affect oceans and the atmosphere.

St. Germain added, "And then, of course, there is a relationship between the phytoplankton and the aerosols." Phytoplankton are very small plants that float near the surface of water. They serve as a source of food for many sea creatures. NASA says phytoplankton "provide food to all sorts of animals ranging from shellfish to finfish to whales."

NASA says PACE's instruments will aim to measure changes in phytoplankton. The satellite will aim to collect data on aerosols that attach to phytoplankton. These studies will be important in identifying any changes in phytoplankton from interactions with aerosols which could affect the ocean and life in it.

NASA has already launched a series of Earth-observing satellites and instruments into orbit. But the agency believes PACE will be able to collect more detailed data on how different aerosols and pollutants get into the oceans and the atmosphere.

Project Scientist Werdell noted that current Earth-observing satellites can only see in seven or eight different colors. But he said Pace will see in 200 colors, permitting scientists to better identify different kinds of algae in the sea and particles in the air.

News reports say the mission will cost about $950 million.

The PACE mission follows the launch in December 2022 of NASA's SWOT satellite. The SWOT mission measures sea levels and changes in bodies of water over time. SWOT is a cooperative effort between NASA and France's space agency.

NASA is cooperating with India on another Earth-observing satellite set to launch this year. That spacecraft, called NISAR, will use radar instruments to measure the effects of rising temperatures on glaciers and other melting, icy surfaces.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from NASA and The Associated Press.

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Words in This Story

unprecedented - adj. never having happened before

algae bloom - n. a fast and large increase in algae - simple plants that have no leaves or stems and that grow in or near water

precipitation - n. rain or snow that falls to the ground

dimension - n. a particular part of a situation, especially something that affects how a person thinks or feels

all sorts of - n. many different kinds of something

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