Published: March 21, 2006

The University of Colorado at Boulder has been awarded $833,000 by NASA for a 2007 sounding rocket mission to study high-altitude clouds believed to be tied to climate change.

The sounding rocket will be launched from Norway to study noctilucent clouds, which form at Earth's poles at altitudes of about 50 miles in the portion of the atmosphere known as the mesosphere. First identified in 1885 in northern high latitudes, the clouds have been increasing in brightness and frequency.

The clouds are believed to be related to long-term increases in carbon dioxide and methane, and have been called the "miner's canary of global climate change," according to physics Professor Scott Robinson, also a LASP researcher. CU-Boulder is teaming up with the University of Washington on the project.

The CU-Boulder team is building the mesospheric aerosol sampling spectrometer, or MASS, for the mission to measure the size and distribution of the cloud particles and their variation in the atmosphere, Robertson said. The launch is part of an international campaign to study the clouds and will consist of more than a dozen rocket launches and ground-based optical and radar support measurements.

Data from the campaign will be coordinated with the NASA mission called Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere, or AIM, due to launch in late 2006. AIM will be taking images and other measures from a low-Earth orbit. LASP is building two of the three instruments for the AIM mission and will control the satellite from the Space Technology Building control center in the CU Research Park on the east campus.