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NASA and Italian Space Agency Join Forces on Air Pollution Mission

NASA are partnering with the Italian space agency Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI) to put a satellite into space that will monitor air pollution in 11 major cities around the planet.

Planned to be launched before the end of 2024, The Multi-Angle Imager for Aerosols (MAIA) will study how different types of particulate matter air pollution affect our health. It will be the first NASA mission whose primary goal is health-related, as well as the first time epidemiologists and public health researchers have been directly involved in development of a satellite mission.

The camera uses a set of polished aluminum mirrors which can record light at many more wavelengths than a conventional camera

MAIA’s camera will  measure sunlight reflecting off airborne particles which will help researchers determine the abundance, size, and optical properties of  pollutants in the atmosphere. Those results will then be related to human birth, death, and hospitalisation records to answer questions about the health impacts of solid and liquid particles that contaminate the air.

The 11 cities chosen all have large populations, little cloud cover, available health records and available data from ground monitoring systems. They include Delhi, Los Angeles, Beijing and Addis Ababa.

The mission is taking place to answer three primary questions:

  • What types of airborne particles are dangerous over the short term (days to weeks)? 
  • What types of airborne particles are dangerous during pregnancy? 
  • What types of airborne particles are dangerous over the long term (multiple years)?

Francesco Longo, head of the Earth Observation and Operation Division at ASI said: ‘MAIA marks an important moment in the long history of cooperation between NASA and ASI, and it symbolizes the best our two agencies can marshal in terms of expertise, knowledge, and Earth-observation technology,” said . “The science produced by this joint mission will provide benefits to humanity for years to come.’

Image:  NASA/JPL-Caltech

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