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Research and public service in the physics and chemistry of the atmosphere of the Earth and other planets, and of outer space.

Scientists from the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy (BIRA-IASB), in collaboration with the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) and the European Space Agency (ESA) have determined the extent to which the COVID-19 crisis has had an impact on air quality. The results were published on May 8, 2020, in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Rather than adapting our environment, today we are learning to adapt ourselves. For the duration of the period of confinement, the Royal Belgian Institute is adapting its slogan from "Science between Heaven and Earth" to "Science between Heaven and Home". We'll be sharing with you the little things that brighten our days in our new life and work routines. Each week you'll see new additions to the collection here.

This spring, the Arctic was marked by what may be the largest hole in the ozone layer ever recorded over the North Pole. The ozone hole is a common seasonal phenomenon observed yearly over the South Pole areas (Antarctica). Ozone holes over the Arctic, however, are rarer. Since the start of satellite observations over this region in 1978, only one Arctic ozone hole has formed above the North Pole before, in 2011. Unusual meteorological conditions are responsible for this year’s exceptional ozone hole at the North Pole.

A question came up this week: “is it just an impression, or is the sky clearer and “bluer” since the start of the lockdown?” To be clear, we’re not talking about the weather or clouds, but the colour of the sky itself.

To answer the question, our scientist, Christine Bingen, first wrote an article about where the blue colour of the sky comes from.

It's incredible to think that pieces of a protoplanet – a large asteroid/small baby planet that never had the chance to become a real one - have been scattered around the solar system and made their way to planet Earth, in our time! And not just that, one piece of the protoplanet Vesta even made it all the way to Belgium. It was seen falling into a barn in the southern village of Tintigny in 1971, by Mr Eudore Schmitz. At the time, it was entrusted to the village teacher for identification, but fell into oblivion for over 40 years.

Many articles and statements have circulated about the effects of the Corona virus on air quality, including from us (see article about NO2 pollution in China). We would like to think that air quality has vastly improved since our lives have been virtually stopped in their tracks, but, as always, reality is complex. Here are a few scientific facts for you.