New Satellite Sends Incredible First Pictures Back to Earth

By: Chris Long

“Liftoff, we have liftoff,” mission control announced on November 16, 2016 at 6:42am from the Kennedy Space Center in Eastern Florida. With that, a spacecraft carrying a multi-million dollar weather satellite was launched high up into the Earth’s atmosphere. The satellite, meant to circle around the Earth for at least 15 years, is the next generation weather satellite. Replacing the GOES-15 satellite launched in 2010, the GOES-16 or GOES-R is providing the clearest pictures of the earth we have ever seen.

While it is beautiful to see pictures of Earth from above, the main function of the satellite is to help meteorologists on the ground deliver weather forecasts and critical information during severe storms. The new satellite, orbiting about 22,000 miles from Earth, has three times the spectral channels capturing images at four times the resolution, with five times the efficiency as the older GOES-15 satellite. This means that scientists can now easily figure out the difference between clouds, ice, snow, ash, and anything else that might show up in a satellite image. On older GOES satellites, clouds and ice appeared as one grey blob. This made it difficult to determine the weather conditions in a certain area, so weather models were unable to produce reliable forecasts. Now, scientists will have more data available to plug into weather and climate models, keeping people safe in the path of danger.

goes_16_and_goes_13_comparison_from_the_same_day_jan_15_2017_high_res
This is the comparison between images the old weather satellites sent back to Earth and the new GOES-R satellite.

The satellite will also be of help as natural disasters occur. The satellite scans the globe once every 15 minutes and can scan the entire United States in 5 minutes. This means that every 15 minutes during a disaster, scientists will have comprehensive information on the storm to keep people in the path of destruction safe.

The GOES-R is not only going to be studying weather, it will also be indirectly studying climate. The satellite is not directly designed to study climate, but in the process of examining weather for many years in a row, scientists are expecting to detect patterns, and perhaps changes in those patterns, which might lead them to conclusions about climate and climate change.

Overall, the entire weather community was beyond excited the morning of November 16 when the satellite was launched. It’s safe to say that we have taken a huge step forward in weather observing and forecasting, and it will be exciting to see what comes next.

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