Satellite fires space laser at Earth to map winds

The Aeolus is emitting pulses of ultraviolet light to measure how the air moves around the globe.

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The European Space Agency launched the Aeolus satellite in August and just activated its laser.

ESA/ATG medialab

Europe's Aeolus satellite has started emitting pulses of ultraviolet light from its laser as it measures winds around the Earth.

The satellite was launched into space on a Vega rocket from Europe's spaceport in French Guiana on Aug. 22, kicking off a three-month testing period that includes turning on the laser to make sure it works, the European Space Agency noted.

The goal of the Aeolus project is improve scientists' understanding of how our atmosphere works and to improve weather forecasting.

Its laser emits 50 powerful pulses of ultraviolet light per second into the atmosphere and measures signals from air molecules, dust particles and water droplets to build a profile of wind speeds in the lowermost 30 km (19 miles) of the atmosphere.

"We have pioneered new technology for one of the largest data gaps in meteorology -- global wind profiles in cloud-free atmosphere," said Josef Aschbacher, ESA's director of earth observation programs.

ESA didn't immediately respond to a request for further comment.

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