Earthcare satellite to probe the impact of clouds on climate

A rocket carrying a sophisticated European-Japanese satellite has blasted off on a mission to measure how clouds affect the climate.

The Earthcare orbiter, a collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Japan's JAXA space agency, launched from Vandenberg air base in California on Tuesday.

Weighing 2.3 tonnes, the satellite was sent up from on a SpaceX rocket. It will orbit nearly 400 kilometers above Earth for three years.

ESA, which is leading the mission, has described it as the organisation's most complex Earth observation venture to date.

"Tonight's launch is a reminder that space is not only about exploring distant galaxies and planets. It is about understanding our beautiful but fragile Earth," ESA director Josef Aschbacher said in a video.

Parasol or blanket?

Clouds – from cumulus and cirrus to cumulonimbus – are a varied and complicated phenomenon.

Low-level cumulus clouds are known to cool the planet, while the cirrus clouds higher up act as a blanket.

The white and bright cumulus clouds, which are made out of water droplets, sit low and work like a parasol, reflecting the Sun's radiation back into space and cooling the atmosphere.

But cirrus clouds, made of ice crystals, allow solar radiation to pass through, heating up the planet.

Aerosols are the precursors to clouds, Gillieron explained.


Read more on RFI English

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