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Principal Investigator Haris Riris (left) and Stewart Wu prepare a prototype of the methane sounder (the mirror is an alignment tool) before demonstrating it aboard NASA?s DC-8 research aircraft in 2011. Another flight is scheduled for later this year. Image Credit: courtesy Emily Schaller

NASA develops laser instrument to measure methane

July 22, 2015: Haris Riris, scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland, is working on a next-generation laser instrument that will provide remotely collected, high resolution, highly accurate, around-the-clock global methane measurements.

Haris Riris is working on the Methane Sounder that operates like the CO2 Sounder Lidar developed by Goddard scientist Jim Abshire, said a NASA statement.

“The next-generation instrument will be able to provide remotely collected, high-resolution, highly accurate, around-the-clock global methane measurements should it ultimately fly as a space-borne instrument,” NASA said in a statement.

Haris? team includes Goddard’s Kenji Numata and Stewart Wu. The team will further improve the prototype instrument and then test it during a NASA DC-8 aircraft campaign later this year.

“We’re working to come up with a design that we think will work in space,” Riris said in the statement.

“Our goal is to prove that the technique works and meets precision and accuracy requirements,” said Riris.

Methane is an important greenhouse gas produced by certain types of bacteria in soils and in the digestive tracts of some animals. Large quantities of methane are produced as a result of forest fires and human industrial processes. Methane is potent and effective at absorbing heat.

Although some satellite instruments can detect and map Earth’s methane, Riris’ concept gives scientists 24-hour coverage at all latitudes.

The release says the Methane Sounder will follow the same principles, and the agency hopes that like the CO2 sounder it will eventually be deployed on a satellite.

NASA is funding the development ahead of planned flight tests aboard a DC-8 later this year, and if all goes well the agency hopes an instrument could be included aboard a mission like the Active Sensing of CO2 Emissions over Nights, Days and Seasons (ASCENDS).

Photo caption: Principal Investigator Haris Riris (left) and Stewart Wu prepare a prototype of the methane sounder (the mirror is an alignment tool) before demonstrating it aboard NASA?s DC-8 research aircraft in 2011. Another flight is scheduled for later this year. Photo courtesy: Emily Schaller


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