Innovative Space Probe Delivers Hourly Air Pollution Data Over North America

In a groundbreaking advancement, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, in collaboration with NASA, has launched a space-based instrument that is transforming air pollution monitoring across North America. The Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution (TEMPO) instrument began providing expansive views of atmospheric contaminants following its deployment in August.

SUMMARY: Scientists are celebrating the successful functioning of TEMPO, a novel instrument aboard a space probe that offers hourly updates on air pollution levels across North America. Using state-of-the-art technology, this tool tracks nitrogen dioxide and other pollutants with unprecedented resolution, presenting new opportunities for environmental monitoring and policy-making aimed at improving public health and addressing environmental justice.

The technological marvel of TEMPO utilizes a UV-visible spectrometer to analyze the concentration of nitrogen dioxide across immense expanses of the continent 22,000 miles above the ground. The gathered data allows for an hourly analysis of air quality, a significant improvement over the once-a-day snapshots provided by previous low-orbit satellites.

This initiative is expected to significantly enhance our understanding of air quality dynamics. It boasts the precision to home in on areas as small as four square miles, providing intricate details of pollution distribution and better informing strategies to address air quality issues. For the first time, scientists can study the air quality over any North American neighborhood throughout the day.

The tool not only captures nitrogen dioxide but is also designed to monitor pollutants such as ozone, sulfur dioxide, and aerosols during daylight, with the added capability of detecting light pollution nightly. Such comprehensive monitoring allows scientists to observe the impacts of pollution on vulnerable communities and support the creation of policies to alleviate inequities related to air quality.

Looking ahead, the data from TEMPO is poised to revolutionize air quality forecasts across the continent and assist in forming a sustainable environment by informing public health advisories and environmental conservation efforts. With the anticipation of integrating TEMPO’s data into the Environmental Protection Agency’s reporting systems, the future of air quality management and public health protection looks brighter and more informed.

FAQs about the TEMPO Instrument and Air Quality Monitoring

What is the TEMPO instrument?
TEMPO stands for Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution. It is a novel space-based instrument designed to monitor air pollution levels across North America with unprecedented resolution and frequency.

Who launched the TEMPO instrument?
The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, in collaboration with NASA, launched the TEMPO instrument.

When did TEMPO start functioning?
TEMPO began functioning and providing data on air pollution following its deployment in August.

What technology does TEMPO use?
TEMPO utilizes UV-visible spectrometers to analyze the concentration of nitrogen dioxide and other pollutants from an altitude of 22,000 miles above ground level.

How is TEMPO different from previous pollution monitoring satellites?
Unlike previous satellites that provided once-a-day snapshots, TEMPO offers hourly updates on air pollution, giving scientists and policymakers more frequent data for analysis.

What kind of pollutants can TEMPO monitor?
TEMPO is designed to monitor nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, aerosols, and it also has the capability to detect light pollution at night.

What is the significance of TEMPO’s monitoring capability for public health?
The data gathered by TEMPO is expected to revolutionize air quality forecasts, inform public health advisories, and aid in environmental conservation efforts. This could lead to the improvement of public health and address environmental justice concerns.

How will TEMPO’s data be utilized?
TEMPO’s data is anticipated to be integrated into the Environmental Protection Agency’s reporting systems, which will enhance air quality management and environmental policy-making.


UV-visible spectrometer: It is an instrument that measures the light in the ultraviolet and visible regions of the electromagnetic spectrum, and can be used to determine the concentration of pollutants in the air.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2): A toxic gas that is a significant air pollutant capable of causing respiratory problems and contributing to the formation of smog.

Ozone (O3): A molecule composed of three oxygen atoms, ozone at ground level is considered an air pollutant that can cause health issues, despite it forming a protective layer in the stratosphere.

Sulfur dioxide (SO2): A toxic gas produced by the burning of fossil fuels and other industrial processes, contributing to acid rain and respiratory issues.

Aerosols: Tiny particles or droplets suspended in the atmosphere that affect climate and can have health impacts when inhaled.

Light pollution: Excessive, misdirected, or intrusive artificial light that can have detrimental effects on the natural environment and human health.

Related Links

For further information on the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory:
Smithsonian Institution

To learn more about NASA and its projects:

For details on air quality and environmental policies:
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)