What’s going on here?

MethaneSat blasted off in California on Monday aboard a SpaceX rocket, carrying with it fresh hope of stopping methane leaks. It’s on a mission to observe giant leaks of the potent greenhouse gas, and name and shame the worst polluters.

What does this mean?

American non-profit organisation the Environmental Defense Fund developed the satellite alongside the New Zealand Space Agency. It cost $88 million (about £70 million) to build and launch. It’s the first satellite ever to be built by a non-profit.

The project aims to provide the first complete view of methane emissions and leaks from across the world – and the data will be public. That means anyone can go to its website and see the methane leaks – which is vital for holding polluters to account.

And this satellite is really smart – it can detect methane emissions with unprecedented accuracy to help track leaks over time.

Why should we care?

Methane is over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas and human-caused methane emissions are currently responsible for 25% of global heating.

Thousands of tonnes are being released every week in “super-emitter” leaks. That’s not just regular emissions from burning fuel – these are leaks into the atmosphere from gas companies. Some of these are accidents due to faulty or poorly maintained equipment, but many are deliberate instances of venting or flaring unwanted gas.

Leaks from the fossil fuel industry are a major source of emissions – and stopping them is the fastest single way to curb temperature rises. It’s not difficult to stop these leaks – but the oil and gas companies still aren’t doing it. 

Steven Hamburg, the EDF’s chief scientist and MethaneSat project leader, said “Some call it low hanging fruit. I like to call it fruit lying on the ground.”

This new satellite will be able to spot these leaks and provide evidence to help bring the offenders to account.

Be curious

???? Dive into the data sneak peeks from the MethaneSat to see the full picture of methane leaks

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???? Find out more about why cutting methane emissions is such a massive opportunity

Featured image from NASA via Unsplash.