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NASA to Launch Carbon Dioxide-tracking Satellite

An artist's sketch of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory.

On Wednesday, NASA will launch the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2)—a satellite that will measure carbon dioxide from space. Of the millions of tons of carbon dioxide released each day, half is trapped in the atmosphere and the other half comes back to Earth. Of the half that comes back to Earth, half of that amount falls into the oceans—what happens to the remaining 25 percent on Earth is unknown.

“Somewhere on Earth, on land, one-quarter of all our carbon emissions released through fossil fuel emissions is disappearing,” said David Crisp, a senior research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, according to The New York Times. “We can’t identify the processes responsible for this. Wouldn’t it be nice to know where?”

And that’s the question scientists will attempt to answer with this mission. The satellite will be attached to the United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket, which will launch from Vandeberg Air Force Base in California on Tuesday afternoon. It will then analyze data from a set number of locations every 16 days as the Earth is rotating.

The data provided by the OCO-2 will provide what the levels of carbon dioxide are all over the world to get a better idea of where it’s concentrated, hopefully allowing scientists to find a better approach to regulating atmospheric carbon dioxide. “This enhanced understanding is essential for improving predictions of future atmospheric CO2 increases and its impact on Earth’s climate,” NASA’s description of the mission stated

Image courtesy of NASA

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