Monday, December 3, 2012

Physicist happens upon rain data breakthrough

NASA: A physicist and researcher who set out to develop a formula to protect Apollo sites on the moon from rocket exhaust may have happened upon a way to improve weather forecasting on Earth.

Working in his backyard during rain showers and storms, John Lane, a physicist at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, found that the laser and reflector he was developing to track lunar dust also could determine accurately the size of raindrops, something weather radar and other meteorological systems estimate, but don't measure.

The special quantity measured by the laser system is called the "second moment of the size distribution," which results in the average cross-section area of raindrops passing through the laser beam.

"It's not often that you're studying lunar dust and it ends up producing benefits in weather forecasting," said Phil Metzger, a physicist who leads the Granular Mechanics and Regolith Operations Lab, part of the Surface Systems Office at Kennedy.

Lane said the additional piece of information would be useful in filling out the complex computer calculations used to determine the current conditions and forecast the weather. "We may be able to refine (computer weather) models to make them more accurate," Lane said. "Weather radar data analysis makes assumptions about raindrop size, so I think this could improve the overall drop size distribution estimates."...

John Lane looks over data recorded from his laser system as he refines his process and formula to calibrate measurements of raindrops. Photo credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann

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