Smog from Space; September 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Sinha; 2 Page(s)
Confusion tore through the crew of the space shuttle Columbia this past February when a tethered satellite broke free and drifted into oblivion. But for Robert J. Charlson, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington, the aborted mission was a boon. An unexpected phone call from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration told him that the astronauts now had time to snap a few earthy photographs especially for him.
The photos, intended to help Charlson and others decipher how atmospheric pollution affects the planet¿s climate, build on those brought back from earlier shuttle missions and finally confirm the geographic extent of the thick haze that covers many industrial regions. Although scientists have yet to determine the exact chemical composition of the haze, they do know that a large part of it is made up of sulfates. Long thought of as a greenhouse gas and contributor to global warming, sulfate haze is now also known to cool climate--perhaps even completely counteracting regional warming caused by such greenhouse gases as carbon dioxide and methane.