Nasa has successfully launched a laser satellite to map the loss of ice sheets and glaciers around the world as climate change continues to affect our planet.
The space agency put the ICESat-2 into orbit at just after 2 AM this morning after blasting off on top of a Delta II rocket from California.
As well as tracking the increasing sea level around Earth, it will usecutting-edgee instruments to measure how quickly glaciers and ice sheets are melting.
Multiple orbits over the poles will give it a vantage point of 300 miles (482km) above the Earth to fire special lasers downward at 10,000 times each second to make its measurements.
It is able to measure the time it takes for the laser’s photons to return to earth with an accuracy of less than one billionth of a second and will take a measurement every 70cm (2.3ft) along its path.
The laser will be turned on after the satellite has been successfully orbiting for two weeks and all tests have been completed.
‘With this mission we continue humankind’s exploration of the remote polar regions of our planet and advance our understanding of how ongoing changes of Earth’s ice cover at the poles and elsewhere will affect lives around the world, now and in the future,’ said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
The high-resolution data will document changes in the Earth’s polar ice caps, improve forecasts of sea level rise bolstered by ice sheet melt in Greenland and Antarctica, and help scientists understand the mechanisms that are decreasing floating ice and assess how that sea ice loss affects the ocean and atmosphere, explained Nasa.
“While the launch today was incredibly exciting, for us scientists the most anticipated part of the mission starts when we switch on the laser and get our first data,” said Thorsten Markus, ICESat-2 project scientist at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
‘We are really looking forward to making those data available to the science community as quickly as possible so we can begin to explore what ICESat-2 can tell us about our complex home planet.’