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Nasa and Italian space agency to work on air pollution mission

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The upcoming MAIA mission, set to launch before the end of 2024, will try to understand the effects of different types of particle pollution on human health



US space agency Nasa and Italian space agency Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI) are partnering to build and launch the Multi-Angle Imager for Aerosols (MAIA) mission, an effort to investigate the health impacts of tiny airborne particles polluting some of the world’s most populous cities.

The satellite mission will aim to understand the effects of different types of particle pollution on human health, Nasa said on 8 March. Set to launch before the end of 2024, the MAIA observatory will consist of a satellite known as PLATiNO-2, provided by ASI, and a science instrument built at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in southern California. The mission will collect and analyze data from the observatory, sensors on the ground, and atmospheric models, the Nasa website explains.

These results will then be related to human birth, death, and hospitalization records to answer questions about the health impacts of solid and liquid particles that contaminate the air we breathe. These particles, called aerosols, have been linked to respiratory diseases such as asthma and lung cancer, cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke, and adverse reproductive and birth outcomes, including premature birth and low infant birth weight, the Nasa website adds.

The science instrument on MAIA will have a pointable spectropolarimetric camera, which captures digital images at multiple angles in the ultraviolet, visible, near-infrared, and shortwave infrared portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. MAIA will be able to collect measurements of sunlight reflecting off airborne particles, which will help researchers determine the abundance, size, and optical properties of certain pollutants in earth’s atmosphere.

According to Nasa, this data will help the MAIA science team explore the geographic distribution of airborne particles and also investigate how they relate to the patterns and prevalence of health problems stemming from poor air quality.

“Breathing airborne pollution particles has been associated with many health problems, but the toxicity of different particle mixtures has been less well understood,” David Diner, Nasa’s principal investigator for MAIA, said on the space agency’s website. “Working together with colleagues in Italy and around the world, we expect that MAIA will help us understand how airborne particle pollution puts our health at risk and potentially provide insights that will inform the decisions of public health officials and other policymakers,” adds Diner.

Air pollution is increasingly becoming a worldwide problem with no clear solution in sight. A new study, released earlier this week, on global daily levels of air pollution showed that hardly anywhere on Earth is safe from unhealthy air, a Bloomberg report explained.

The report adds: about 99.82% of the global land area is exposed to levels of particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) — tiny particles in the air that scientists have linked to lung cancer and heart disease — above the safety limit recommended by the Word Health Organization, according to the peer-reviewed study published on 6 March in Lancet Planetary Health. And only 0.001% of the world’s population breathes in air that is considered acceptable, the paper says.

Also read: Women’s Day: why women are more susceptible to air pollution

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