Humanity is about to deepen its understanding of Earth's winds. The European Space Agency has secured a rocket launch deal for its wind-tracking Aeolus satellite, which is now expected to enter orbit before the end of 2017. The once-problematic spacecraft (technical issues postponed its 2015 launch) will be the first to profile wind on a worldwide scale thanks to the novel use of ultraviolet lidar in space. By bouncing laser light off of atmospheric air, dust and water, Aeolus will measure everything from cyclones to the presence of aerosols.
Aeolus could have far-reaching effects. It'll improve our grasp on atmospheric behavior, which could improve both weather forecasts and our knowledge of the human role in climate change. It should influence other projects, too, by demonstrating how lidar can offer a fresh approach to Earth studies. Even if the Aeolus launch doesn't get you excited, it could make a significant impact on science as a whole.