What is NASA's New Mineral Dust Detector?
The Mineral Dust Detector, or M.D.D., is a device designed and built by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory that measures atmospheric mineral dust from space via satellite in near-real time. The M.D.D., launched on the OCO-2 mission, is currently measuring mineral dust on a global scale for an indefinite period, creating images that can be used to study human activities around the globe and detect places where natural events such as wildfires might occur before they happen.
1. To Detect Mineral Dust at Ground Level
NASA's asteroid sample-recovery spacecraft, OSIRIS-REx, is scheduled to arrive at Bennu in 2018. The probe will collect various samples from the asteroid that may be useful for future exploration within our solar system and beyond.
This mission aims to collect and return samples of minerals that may have extraterrestrial origins to Earth and better understand asteroids and their relationship with the rest of the solar system.
2. To Provide Quantitative Information on the Mineral Dust's Nature and Origin
Mineral dust is a naturally occurring material that can harm our health and climate. NASA's Spitzer, Terra, and Aqua spacecraft have previously flown to collect data on mineral dust in the Atmosphere of the Earth. Still, NASA has launched a new satellite named OCO-2 that can collect information about this material globally.
Though the OCO-2 satellite has collected information about mineral dust for about two years, data from this instrument will not be released until after it has been carefully analyzed. However, scientists hope that the information collected from this instrument will help determine the overall composition and distribution of mineral dust in the Atmosphere.
The OCO-2 satellite is designed to detect and monitor atmospheric dust levels over a wide area up to 1,500 miles above Earth's surface. It is expected that minerals such as sand and salt would be most effective at blocking sunlight, so this satellite's sensors more easily detect them.
3. To Understand How Human Activities Affect Mineral Dust Levels in the Atmosphere
By using the information collected by OCO-2, scientists hope to gain a better understanding of how mineral dust levels are affected by human activities. It is believed that this material is a significant factor in determining climate cycles on Earth, such as El Niño, and it significantly affects winds, hurricanes, and even weather patterns. By studying this material on a global scale, scientists may be able to develop methods for improving climate forecasting models.
4. To Study Wildfires in the Atmosphere
The M.D.D. is also an essential tool for studying wildfires. Because of the effect mineral dust has on air currents, the resulting images from M.D.D.s can be used to detect how wildfires will impact a location and can also be used in observing wildfires before they occur.
The M.D.D. is part of a NASA-funded project called the Flameless Atmospheric Mineral Dust Detector or FLAMED. FLAMED is a collaboration between several institutions, including the Australian National University, the University of Colorado-Boulder, the University of Western Australia, and NASA's Kennedy Space Center.
5. To Create Maps of Mineral Dust for Use in Research and Education
NASA plans to create maps of mineral dust using data from the M.D.D. to help aid researchers and educators in their studies of this material. In the future, it is anticipated that more satellite missions like OCO-2 will be created to gain a complete picture of the effects of mineral dust on the environment and Earth's climate. According to a recent study, the influence of mineral dust on climate could be as significant as that of carbon dioxide.
6. To Identify Natural and Human-Induced Hazards
The M.D.D. is also used to identify natural and human-induced hazards, primarily by detecting volcanic ash clouds that pose a danger to aircraft transiting polar regions. In addition, this material is also used to identify how it affects land use patterns and to understand how health effects from breathing in dust particles may be different for people depending on where they live, according to NASA.
7. To Determine the Effect of Volcanic Ash on Aircraft
The M.D.D. is used to identify how mineral dust levels can affect climate and health globally and determine how volcanic ash clouds can affect aircraft transiting polar regions. According to NASA, it aids in the development of information about how mineral dust affects Earth's weather and climate, and it helps monitor ground levels of this material to help provide a better understanding of how it affects human health.
8. To Determine the Effect of Mineral Dust on the Preparation of Food
The M.D.D. is also used to determine how mineral dust can affect climate and health globally and how volcanic ash clouds can affect aircraft transiting polar regions. According to NASA, it aids in the development of information about how mineral dust affects Earth's weather and climate, and it helps monitor ground levels of this material to help provide a better understanding of how it affects human health.