ozone hole winter 2017
The hole in the ozone at the end of the Antarctic winter of 2017 was the smallest its been since the 80s. NASA

The sun has been the source of power for all life on Earth. Our existence, is invariably, tied to sunlight. It gives us warmth and also fuels plant growth. But, this mighty star can also do some major harm. Our ozone layer keeps this dark side of the sun away from us. It is Earth’s natural defense against the sun’s most harmful ultraviolet radiation. Overtime, human ignorance has made the ozone layer vulnerable to the scorching power of sunlight.

NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellites constantly monitor amount of ozone in the upper atmosphere and the amount of solar energy that destroys the ozone layer.

In their latest efforts to study climate change and also understand the impact sun rays have on the ozone layer, NASA scientists are now all set to launch a new instrument to the International Space Station (ISS) that will provide the most accurate measurements ever made of sunlight as seen from above Earth’s atmosphere.

The new addition to the ISS is called Total and Spectral solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS-1) and will help the team on land to measure the total amount of sunlight that reaches the top of Earth's atmosphere. The various light sensors on the device can show scientists minuscule interactions between light and our atmosphere.

It can record how that light is distributed between different wavelengths, including ultraviolet wavelengths we cannot sense with our eyes, but affect our DNA. The TSIS-1 will see more than 1,000 wavelength bands from 200 to 2400 nanometers. According to the report, the visible part of the spectrum of our eyes goes from about 390 nanometers (blue) to 700 nanometers (red). A nanometer is one billionth of a meter. It can also study different types of ultraviolet (UV) light, including UV-B and UV-C.

It is known UV-C rays are essential in creating ozone while UV-B rays help regulate the production of this ozone. They serve opposite functions but a balance is integral to a healthy, functioning ozone layer.

TSIS-1 will succeed NASA’s SCORE and will help monitor incoming sunlight with technological upgrades that should improve stability, provide three times better accuracy and lower interference from other sources of light, according to Candace Carlisle, TSIS-1 project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

“We need to measure the full spectrum of sunlight and the individual wavelengths to evaluate how the Sun affects Earth’s atmosphere,” said Dong Wu, TSIS-1 project scientist at Goddard. “Each color or wavelength of light affects Earth’s atmosphere differently,” he added in the report.

UV-C and UV-B rays are harmful if they reach the surface of Earth. Holes in the ozone layer help them reach the crust, increasing health problems.

To help the ozone recover, NASA scientists use computer models of the atmosphere which simulate the physical, chemical and weather processes that could cause changes in the atmosphere. These atmospheric models use data collected from various land and space sources to help predict ozone layer recovery. To run the best possible simulation, the models also need accurate measurements of sunlight across the spectrum.

"Atmospheric models need accurate measurements of sunlight across the ultraviolet spectrum to model the ozone layer correctly,” said Peter Pilewskie, TSIS-1 lead scientist at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder, Colorado. “[TSIS] measurements of the solar spectrum are three times more accurate than previous instruments."

These in-depth measurements will allow the computer models produce better simulations of the ozone layer's behavior and other atmospheric phenomenon influenced by sunlight, such as the movement of winds and weather.