‘Metasurface’ expertise might advance Earth science from orbit

Kerry Meyer with NASA’s Goddard Area Flight Middle in Greenbelt, Maryland, is working with a brand new metasurface materials developed by Harvard researchers to develop new light-weight polarimeters. Credit score: Harvard/Noah Rubin

Daylight touring by means of the environment turns into polarized in numerous methods as it’s scattered by water vapor, ice, aerosols created by dwelling organisms, mud, and different particulates.

Measuring that polarization lets scientists extrapolate what’s within the environment, and the subsequent technology of polarimeters for the job may benefit from a brand new expertise developed by researchers at Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Earth scientist Kerry Meyer at NASA’s Goddard Area Flight Middle in Greenbelt, Maryland, is working with Harvard companions to develop a science use for his or her “metasurface” expertise. Utilizing one flat optical element, the expertise can analyze gentle alongside 4 polarization instructions, permitting for a full characterization of sunshine’s polarized state: depth, linear polarization (horizontal and vertical), and round polarization.

“Up till not too long ago, polarimeters have been fairly giant devices, and relying on the measurement technique, might contain a lot of shifting components and totally different optics,” mentioned Meyer. “This metasurface expertise splits the incoming sign into all 4 states.”

With out the shifting components, this expertise might allow polarimetry in small satellites like SmallSats and CubeSats however may be scaled up to be used on bigger missions at a major price, quantity, weight and energy financial savings over current expertise.

Whereas the Harvard expertise continues to be in early growth, Goddard scientist Dan Miller mentioned a kind of polarimeter is anticipated to fly as a part of the NASA’s deliberate Earth System Observatory on the Aerosol, Cloud, Convection and Precipitation (ACCP) mission really useful within the 2017 Earth Decadal Survey.

Anticipated to enter growth this yr, this mission would, amongst different issues, mix polarimetry with lidar information to offer new insights into the clouds and particles within the environment and the way they have an effect on life on Earth. Lidar means Gentle Detection and Ranging and it’s a distant sensing methodology that makes use of gentle within the type of a pulsed laser to measure variable distances to the Earth.

“The mix of a lidar and a polarimeter in orbit, observing the identical goal, tells you each what you are and the vertical distribution—the place it’s within the environment,” Miller mentioned.

The partnership gave Harvard postdoctoral researcher Noah Rubin valued perception into the science use circumstances for his expertise.

“Working with our new colleagues at NASA has been nice,” Rubin mentioned. “My staff at Harvard had been primarily involved with new physics and optical applied sciences enabled by controlling gentle on the nanoscale. It is uncommon, nonetheless, that we get the prospect to work together with potential end-users in such a direct method, to not point out at such an early stage in a brand new expertise’s growth.”

For Earth scientist Ed Nowottnick, the Harvard expertise makes distributed observations of clouds and aerosolized particles one step nearer to actuality.

“I might see flying this sensor in house as a constellation,” he mentioned. “In the event you might put up a number of copies, you possibly can enhance your protection over time. Then, you are actually going a great distance towards understanding atmospheric processes.”

Payouts would come with higher forecasting of climate, aerosol particles, and clouds, in addition to a stronger understanding of how local weather change might have an effect on these processes sooner or later.


Picture: Tiny NASA satellite tv for pc captures first picture of clouds and aerosols


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NASA’s Goddard Area Flight Middle

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‘Metasurface’ expertise might advance Earth science from orbit (2021, June 10)
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