Professor Investigating Earth’s Clouds, Global Climate

Posted: January 29, 2003 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Michael Summers, a professor in the School of Computational Sciences and Deptartment of Physics and Astronomy, is a co-investigator on a recently selected NASA satellite mission to explore Earth’s highest clouds and their connection to global climate. The Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) Explorer, to be launched in 2006, will investigate the formation and evolution of noctilucent–luminous and thin–clouds that appear at an 82-kilometer altitude over the Earth’s poles during the summer season.

There are indications that both the frequency and brightness of noctilucent clouds in the upper atmosphere have been increasing over the past several decades, and it is hypothesized that this results from increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases. AIM will measure atmospheric temperatures and water vapor concentrations in the cloud-forming region, as well as the properties of the clouds themselves. This will help determine the connection between the clouds and their environment and serve as a baseline for the study of long-term changes in the upper atmosphere. James Russell III of Hampton University will lead the $92 million AIM mission.

The Explorer program is designed to provide frequent, low-cost access to space for physics and astronomy missions with small- to mid-sized spacecraft. Six Small Explorer (SMEX) missions have been launched since 1992, and five of them are still operating and returning science data. The AIM proposal was one of two selected from among 46 proposals submitted to NASA in February 2000. The other selected SMEX mission will map the “cosmic web” of hot gas that spans the universe.

“From the time Explorer 1 was launched more than 40 years ago and discovered the Van Allen radiation belts, Explorer satellites have made impressive discoveries by obtaining significant science at the lowest cost,” says Edward Weiler, associate administrator for space science, NASA Headquarters. “The two missions we’ve selected will continue in the Explorer tradition by investigating some of the most fundamental questions raised in space science.”

For more information on the concepts of the AIM mission, click here. For more information on the Explorer program, click here.

Write to at