Because doing science in space wouldn’t be complete without a giant laser, the International Space Station is due to receive a super-powerful laser by the end of 2014. But don’t worry, because this particular laser doesn’t actually have the capability to cause Armageddon… yet.
The laser, called CATS (unfortunately it has nothing to do with cheezburgers or YouTube videos), is designed to study the distribution of dust and air contaminants known as aerosols. This work is vital to understanding the circulation of pollutants and aerosols worldwide, making it a lot easier to predict and track the spread. For example, when the eruption of an Icelandic volcano created ash clouds that grounded most European flights, a lot of those flights were grounded as a precaution because we couldn’t track where the ash actually was in the atmosphere.
CATS stands for Cloud Aerosol Transport System, and will demonstrate state-of-the-art multi-wavelength laser technology. It will emit 5,000 tiny one-milliJoule pulses a second at three different wavelengths: 1064, 532 and 355 nanometres. It’s the third wavelength that really sets it apart from the existing laser aerosol kit, CALIPSO: CATS will be able to measure the horizontal and vertical distribution of particles in the atmosphere, as well as their size. It’s also capable of measuring the amount of light that’s reflected back at it, meaning the resolution is much better.
It’s a massive step in our ability to predict and track the movement of potentially dangerous particles through our atmosphere: but I can’t help but feel disappointed that there isn’t a cat-controlled laser cannon heading into space, instead. If nothing else, it would make a great YouTube video.
[Original article: io9]