Why NASA’s PACE mission matters

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NASA is getting ready to launch one of its most important space missions of 2024 into orbit. PACE, which stands for Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem, will collect data on clouds, phytoplankton growth, and more to help determine the ocean’s color.

The mission might not sound like anything that important, but it will actually go a long way to helping us understand the ocean and even how global warming and climate change might be affecting our oceans at the most basic scale. It’s an admirable mission that NASA says it hopes to use for at least three years.

Set to launch on Thursday, February 8, the mission will climb into orbit aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9. Once it reaches 676.5 kilometers (or 420 miles) of orbital altitude, NASA’s PACE mission will start collecting data. It’s comprised of three primary instruments, all of which will play an important part in PACE’s mission.

Aerial view of the ocean waveImage source: tawatchai1990 / Adobe

The Ocean Color Instrument (OCI) will measure the properties of light over portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. It will then analyze that data to check ocean color data records for climate studies. The second instrument, the Spectro-polarimeter for Planetary Exploration (SPEXone), will strive for accurate characterization of aerosols in the atmosphere.

It’ll do this by measuring the sunlight that is reflected back from Earth’s atmosphere, land surface, and even the ocean itself. Finally, the Hyper-Angular Rainbow Polarimeter (HARP2) will try to measure clouds and aerosol particles, as well as the properties of various water and land surfaces.

All of this data will help NASA’s PACE mission paint a better picture of what the ocean will look like as climate change continues to change our planet. It will also help us learn more about the quality of the air that we breathe and the overall health of our oceans as they are today.