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AIM Satellite
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A satellite carrying two University of Colorado at Boulder instruments to study silvery-blue clouds that mysteriously form 50 miles above Earth's polar regions every year is slated to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on April 25.
The spectacular clouds, known as noctilucent clouds, will be probed by NASA's Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere mission, or AIM, to determine why they form and how they change.

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NASA will host a media teleconference on Wednesday, April 11 at 2 p.m. EDT to discuss science objectives of the Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) mission.
AIM is scheduled to launch April 25 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California aboard a Pegasus launch vehicle. It will measure high altitude noctilucent ("night shining") clouds to determine why they form and vary, which may be linked to climate change.

Source NASA

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Since their discovery 120 years ago, strangely luminescent clouds called noctilucent clouds have been creeping slowly toward the equator.
Once confined to Earth's poles, the bizarre clouds have now been spotted above central Colorado, and they appear to be getting brighter and more numerous, too, said David Rusch, a University of Colorado atmospheric scientist.
This month, NASA plans to launch the $110 million AIM (Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere) mission to measure noctilucent clouds and the circumstances in which they form - which may be linked to climate change.
The satellite will measure air temperature and pressure, moisture content and cloud dimensions.

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AIM Satellite
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A Nasa satellite mission will be launched this year to study the highest and most mysterious clouds on Earth.

Noctilucent, or "night-shining", clouds appear as thin bands in twilight skies, some 80km above the surface. Recent records suggest they have become brighter, more frequent and are being seen at lower latitudes than usual.
Scientists cannot say for sure but they suspect human activity may be altering the conditions in the mesosphere that drive the clouds' formation.

"Noctilucent clouds were first seen in 1885 by a British amateur astronomer, Robert Leslie" - James Russell from Hampton University, Virginia, US.

* The changes in frequency and brightness have been observed over the past 20 years
* Normally confined closer to the poles, they have been seen as low as 50 degree North

Russell is the principal investigator on the AIM (Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere) spacecraft, which will be lofted to 600km to make a detailed study of the clouds.

The 195kg satellite will be put in space by a Pegasus rocket launched from beneath the wing of an aircraft.
AIM's three instruments will investigate the recipe needed to make the clouds - cold temperatures, the presence of water vapour, and small dust particles around which the water can condense and freeze out to create ice crystals.
Scientists think most of the dust comes not from below but from above - from space. It is extremely hard for dust in the lower atmosphere to be pulled so high, while meteoritic dust is known to be settling onto the planet all the time as rocky space debris falls to Earth.
If this has stayed reasonably stable over time, then the explanation for the observed changes in the occurrence and properties of the clouds will have to be sought in the satellite's temperature and water/ice data.
The mesosphere is already very cold, down to about -125C and more, but researchers say it is getting even colder.
Although the extra carbon dioxide (CO2) put into the atmosphere by human activities has warmed the air near the Earth's surface, it is thought to have had the opposite effect in the middle and upper atmosphere by radiating heat more efficiently into space.

"In addition to CO2, methane has been increasing in the atmosphere. Once methane makes it into the high atmosphere, the sun breaks down the molecule and forms water - so, that's another source for water vapour in addition to the water vapour coming from below. These are all likely causes for the changes we are seeing. Our mission will collect the data that can be put into the models to help us get to sound conclusions about what really going on." - James Russell.

AIM is a US space agency Small Explorer mission. It has a number of partner organisations, including the British Antarctic Survey.
James Russell gave details of the mission at the American Geophysical Union Joint Assembly.

Source BBC

The AIM spacecraft will be launch-ready no later than September 29, 2006, and will be launched aboard a Pegasus rocket from the Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The expected mission life of AIM is 26 months.

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