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Weather Satellites: A New Era

Have you noticed in the last year that meteorologists and scientists have been using clearer and more defined satellite images of Earth? Maybe you have seen the incredible, high precision imaging loops of 2018 Atlantic storms like Hurricane Florence, Tropical Storm Gordon or Hurricane Michael, which all made landfall in the United States.

In 2016, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) deployed a fleet of new geostationary weather satellites called the GOES-R Series. These new weather satellites retrieve and send imaging five times faster and have four times greater resolution than any previous weather satellites.

Geostationary satellites rotate with the same speed as Earth while looking directly down at our equator from 22,236 miles above. Since these weather satellites are placed directly above their target areas, geostationary orbits allow quick communication capabilities. New measurements can be taken and sent to Earth about every 30 seconds!

Two of these four weather satellites have already been launched to space. The first one launched in November 2016, became operational in December 2016, and is now referred to as GOES-16. This first satellite focuses on the eastern portions of North and South America, but it also has the entire Atlantic Ocean in view. The second satellite, GOES-17, launched on March 1, 2018 and is currently in its testing stages awaiting full operation on December 10 of this year. GOES-17 will focus on the western portions of North and South America while also including the Pacific Ocean in view.

The last two new satellites are projected to launch in 2020 and 2024. This new fleet of four GOES-R weather satellites are planned to operate through 2036.

The benefits and capabilities of these new weather satellites are numerous. Meteorologists and scientists now have the most advanced lightning detection capabilities coupled with better and faster tools to monitor fires, smoke, dust, and other atmospheric pollutants, as well as rainfall, flash flood risks, fog, and low clouds. During severe weather, these new satellites offer increased thunderstorm and tornado warning lead times and improved information on hurricane tracks and intensity. Weather forecasting models can also benefit from the higher quality data with more accurate weather forecasts. In addition to meteorologists and climatologists, other industries such as transportation, agriculture, energy, and aviation can benefit from this new data.

The GOES-R weather satellite fleet is an exciting accomplishment for engineers and scientists of all kinds! Once all of the weather satellites are complete and operational, meteorologists on every continent will be able to access the clearest and most up-to-date data to improve their forecasting abilities and keep the general public safe during severe weather outbreaks!

If you enjoy learning about weather and the tools and equipment meteorologists use, visit the Perot Museum’s Rees-Jones Foundation Dynamic Earth Hall where you can touch a tornado, experience an earthquake, conduct a weather broadcast, and further explore earth, air and water. Learn more at www.perotmuseum.org.

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