The last time NASA tried to launch a satellite to measure carbon dioxide levels from space, within minutes the $273 million project plopped into the Southern Ocean (oops). Tomorrow they’re giving it another go. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO)-2 will blast off at 2:56 a.m. PDT from the Vadenburg Air Force Base in California. This time, it’ll hopefully make it to 438 miles above the planet, where it will be in a prime position to obsessively watch Earth breathe.
Which sounds stalker-esque, but don't get too creeped out. OCO’s main goal is to figure out where, exactly, atmospheric CO2 currently comes from -- and, more mysteriously, where it ends up. While fossil fuel emissions have tripled since the 1960s, levels of atmospheric CO2 have risen by less than a quarter (but unfortunately that's still enough to cause big global change). That’s because somehow our oceans and plants have, on average, been able to keep pace with absorbing half of the total atmospheric CO2. But scientists still don't know a lot about the dynamics of how this is happening, which leaves them wondering: How long can we expect these carbon sinks to keep sucking the stuff down?