In the Zone


What do you get when clear blue sky turns out to be filled with previously unknown, invisible particles? The twilight zone. At least according to NASA.

Last month, scientists at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and Israel's Weizmann Institute discovered that the space around clouds previously thought to be only empty atmosphere is instead composed, up to 60 percent, of transitional particles of dying and forming clouds.

Besides clouds, dry aerosols (like dust and smog) and cloud droplets influence the climate by trapping and reflecting solar energy. These known atmospheric components, however, continually failed to yield accurate climate-change predictions. The discovery of the cloud particles may be the missing key. Although the new discovery confuses the matter further by adding another unstable element—understanding and predicting climate change was already complicated by the variety and continuous movement of clouds—knowledge of its existence will undoubtedly improve prediction in the long run, as climatologists learn to account for the particle matter in modeling programs.

Currently, scientists' analysis of how solar energy is absorbed and reflected is incomplete at best. NASA believes this latest finding may provide the means for forecasting the future of global warming.—Abby Seiff