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NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2

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Nasa has launched a mission to measuring carbon dioxide (CO2) from space

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) will help locate the locations on the Earth’s surface where the gas is being emitted and absorbed.

A Delta rocket carrying the satellite lifted off from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 02:56 local time (09:56 GMT; 10:56 BST).

The new $468m mission should operate for at least two years.

Its main objective is to trace the global geographic distribution of CO2 in the atmosphere, measuring its presence down through the column of air to the planet’s surface.

This should give scientists a better understanding of how the greenhouse gas cycles through the Earth system, influencing the climate.

The observatory carries a single instrument, a spectrometer that breaks the sunlight reflected off the Earth’s surface into its constituent colours, and then analyses the spectrum to determine how much carbon dioxide and molecular oxygen is present.

Combining the data on these two gases will be used to work out atmospheric concentrations.

Current CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere stand at about 400 parts per million.

OCO-2’s precision should enable it to detect changes of one or two carbon dioxide molecules out of the 400.

The mission follows on the heels of the Japanese Gosat (Greenhouse gases Observing Satellite) venture, which has been doing a similar job since 2009, but with a lower resolution than OCO-2.

The Nasa scientists say they have learnt vast amount from the Gosat experience, and expect the US satellite’s science return to be boosted as a result.

Dr David Crisp, the science team leader on OCO-2, said, “Our science team has been working very closely with the Japanese, and this has provided a critical series of opportunities to develop and then validate the algorithms we will use to analyse the data.

“We are now so much further ahead of where we would have been had we launched successfully in 2009. In fact, we now think that within a few months of this launch, we’ll be producing a product that will be far better than anything we could have produced in the original satellite.”

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NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2

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