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A Map of How Much Better US Air Quality Has Gotten in the Last Decade

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You can literally breathe easier now; new imagery from NASA's Aura satellite shows that over the past 10 years, air quality in the U.S. has improved. It's not to say that the environment isn't still generally screwed, but that's great news, especially if you live in or near a city.

The satellite, which has spent the past decade in orbit, shows a clear reduction in nitrogen dioxide in U.S. cities. Nitrogen dioxide, for the non-NASA smarties of us, is a toxic yellow-brown gas pollutant that can give you respiratory problems. Per NASA:

Nitrogen dioxide is one of the six common pollutants regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect human health. Alone it can impact the respiratory system, but it also contributes to the formation of other pollutants including ground-level ozone and particulates, which also carry adverse health effects. The gas is produced primarily during the combustion of gasoline in vehicle engines and coal in power plants. It's also a good proxy for the presence of air pollution in general.


So yes, absolutely we want less of that, and that's what we're getting, thanks to fewer cars on the road. Just look at how much things have gotten better in cab-heavy New York City. NASA says it's a 32 percent decrease in nitrogen dioxide:


Even in traffic-heavy Atlanta, there's been a 42 percent decrease:

But haha, oh god, we're still not necessarily in good shape—the EPA says 142 million Americans live in places with unhealthy levels of pollution. NASA will continue to monitor the ozone and provide air quality forecasts and important environmental data. In any case, we can't argue with an improvement, even if we're probably doomed anyway. [NASA]