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The uncertainty of science: With the early arrival of the solar minimum, the Earth’s atmosphere has quickly shown signs of cooling.
New research shows that Earth’s upper atmosphere is responding. “We see a cooling trend,” says Martin Mlynczak of NASA’s Langley Research Center. “High above Earth’s surface, near the edge of space, our atmosphere is losing heat energy. If current trends continue, it could soon set a Space Age record for cold.”
These results come from the SABER instrument onboard NASA’s TIMED satellite. SABER monitors infrared emissions from carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitric oxide (NO), two substances that play a key role in the energy balance of air 100 to 300 kilometers above our planet’s surface. By measuring the infrared glow of these molecules, SABER can assess the thermal state of gas at the very top of the atmosphere–a layer researchers call “the thermosphere.”
“The thermosphere always cools off during Solar Minimum. It’s one of the most important ways the solar cycle affects our planet,” explains Mlynczak, who is the associate principal investigator for SABER.
What effect this upper atmosphere cooling will have on the surface climate is somewhat uncertain, though there is a great deal of evidence suggesting the surface climate will cool also.