It’s been working less than a month but already the UK-Dutch-built Sentinel-5P satellite is returning spectacular new views of Earth’s atmosphere.
The spacecraft was designed to make daily global maps of the gases and particles that pollute the air.
The first sample images released by mission scientists show plumes of nitrogen dioxide flowing away from power plants and traffic-choked cities.
S5P has even captured the ash and sulphur emissions from Agung volcano.
The mountain, sited on the Indonesian island of Bali, is in the midst of a big eruption.
Researchers, led from the Netherlands Met Office (KNMI), still have another five months of calibration work ahead to get the satellite’s data ready for public use.
But it is clear, says principal investigator Pepijn Veefkind, that when fully operational, the new Sentinel will be an extremely powerful tool to monitor air quality.
“It’s been amazing to see how quickly we were able to get the satellite working. This is a big improvement on what we’ve been able to do before. In just a week, we’ve got more data out of Sentinel-5P than in several years of operation of a previous mission,” he told BBC News.
Sentinel-5P is the latest spacecraft in a fleet of Earth observers being commissioned by the European Union and the European Space Agency.
Built by Airbus in Britain, the new spacecraft was launched into an 824km-high orbit by a Russian rocket on 13 October.
It carries a single instrument called Tropomi. This is a spectrometer that observes the reflected sunlight coming up off the Earth, analysing its many different colours.
In so doing, it can detect the presence in the atmosphere of a suite of trace gases such as nitrogen dioxide, ozone, formaldehyde, sulphur dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide and aerosols (small droplets and particles).
All affect the