​NASA's next satellite wants to know where all our carbon dioxide is going

Scientists have a pretty good idea what man-made greenhouse gasses are doing in our upper atmosphere, but not all of humanity's emissions stay up there. A good deal of that gas floats back down to Earth, seeping into the world's oceans and being absorbed by soil and plants on land. We're all familiar with this process, but NASA is looking for specifics: where on Earth, exactly, is this gas going, and why haven't we seen an increase in forestation to keep pace with our increased carbon emissions? That's what NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory hopes to find out. Tomorrow, it's launching Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 -- a satellite built specifically to keep an eye on how carbon dioxide is distributed across the globe.

The satellite mission tasks it with surveying specific spots on Earth every 16 days by recording the type of sunlight that reflects off of the atmosphere. Scientists can measure CO2 by evaluating the color and intensity of these reflections, and will compare this data to carbon measuring devices on the ground to map out where our emissions are going. NASA hopes to use this data to create better predictions for future atmospheric carbon increases. It's not as exciting as one of SpaceX's launches, but missions like this are the stuff that could help keep Earth clean in the long run. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory is scheduled to launch in the early hours of July 1st. Check out the source links below for full details.

Update: A day later than originally planned, the OCO-2 satellite is about to be blasted skyward from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and you can watch the launch live on NASA TV.

[Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech]