Tuesday, November 17, 2009

All 'SMILES' Aboard International Space Station in Wake of New Experiment

Tuesday, November 17, 2009
There's a new way to look at environmental issues on Earth -- from 210 miles up aboard the International Space Station -- and investigators are all "SMILES" with early results.

The SMILES experiment, more properly known as the Superconducting Submillimeter-wave Limb-emission Sounder, is investigating issues such as ozone depletion and air quality problems.

The experiment launched on the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s H-II Transfer Vehicle in September -- an unmanned cargo ship for station resupply. Housed on the Japanese Experiment Module's Exposed Facility, SMILES is gathering data on trace gases known to cause ozone depletion, such as chlorine and bromine compounds. The Exposed Facility provides a multipurpose platform where science experiments can be deployed and operated in open space. The observations are taken in the stratosphere, the region of the atmosphere six to 30 miles above the Earth's surface.

"Measurements of ozone and trace gases in the stratosphere from instruments such as SMILES are important for understanding the dynamics of Earth’s atmosphere," said Julie Robinson, International Space Station program scientist at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The advantage of this experiment is the space station's power and payload resources, which enable researchers to test out new technologies. As a result, SMILES can measure precise molecules of trace atmospheric gases and obtain data about elements in quantities too small to be measured until now.

SMILES observations taken in October show that ozone amounts are greater around Earth's equatorial region than at higher latitudes, illustrating the characteristics of stratospheric ozone in its global distribution.

"This is just the beginning," said Takuki Sano, a member of the SMILES science team with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. "In due course, SMILES, with its full-scale observation, will contribute to the prediction of ozone depletion through analyses of the accumulated observation data, thus clarifying the influence the stratosphere has on the troposphere -- the lowest and most dense layer of the atmosphere 10 to 12 miles above the Earth’s surface."


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