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ESA Space Lasers Will Study The Wind

Aug 12, 2016 05:45 AM EDT
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Storm Brian batters UK with 80mph winds

The European Space Agency (ESA) will be studying the wind using space lasers.

The agency recently announced that its long-awaited Doppler wind lidar named Aladin is finally ready to launch into space to probe the Earth's winds.

Aladin, which was designed by Airbus Defense and Space in France, will be shipped from Toulouse, France to the UK to be installed on the Aeolus satellite in preparation for its launch by the end of 2017. Aeolus will be the first satellite mission to probe the winds surrounding the planet as a contribution to climate research, and will deliver wind measurements and other information about aerosols and clouds in near-real time, the agency said in a press release.

These will be done through Aladin's two powerful lasers, which will beam ultraviolet light at Earth. The light will bounce off air molecules and minute particles such as dust, ice and droplets of water in the atmosphere. Aladin's telescope will gather and measure the portions of light that are scattered back towards the satellite.

The project also aims to explore atmospheric dynamics, such as thunderstorms, jet streams, hurricanes and global air circulation in an effort to improve weather tracking and cloud scanning and gauging.

"All these new space development is very good news for the meteorologists and scientists who have been waiting some time to get Aladin generated data to improve weather forecasting," Frederic Fabre, project manager for Aladin, said in a statement.

According to the agency, developing the Aeolus mission had been challenging. The technology's optics had to withstand exposure to "high-intensity laser pulses" for at least three years in space. It took the agency longer than expected to develop optics that could survive such extreme conditions.

But recent tests showed that technical challenges have been resolved, and the instrument will soon be ready to make wind observations that no other instrument has done before.

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