(Photo Credit: NASA)
Successful weather forecasting relies on accurate, real-time data obtained through the operation of multiple sensors. These sensors are designed to measure various atmospheric quantities and include weather balloons, doppler radars, satellites, etc. With the frequent development of new technology that allows for the collection of more timely data, satellites have become particularly helpful tools, especially for those interested in the atmospheric and space sciences.
There are two main types of operational satellites: geostationary and polar-orbiting. Geostationary satellites hover over one point on the equator and rotate at the same rate as the Earth. Therefore the satellite is always positioned above the same location, allowing it to accurately monitor one particular geographic region. Since the prefix geo refers to “the Earth” and stationary means to hold a fixed position, this definition makes perfect sense. Polar-orbiting satellites instead circle the globe adjacent to its movement, passing over both the north and south poles. Rather than viewing the same location consistently, these satellites move perpendicular to the Earth’s rotation and eventually create an image for the entire surface. Essentially, polar-orbiting satellites are designed to pass over the same location in space just after the Earth has rotated far enough for a new portion of the surface to be within the satellites view.
(Photo Credit: UCAR: The COMET Program)
While polar-orbiters provide a considerable amount of information crucial to understanding our atmosphere, recent focus has been on understanding the improved capabilities of the newest geostationary satellites, GOES-16 and GOES-17. The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) program is a joint effort between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), both government agencies are dependent in part on information provided by satellite observation. Both GOES-16 and GOES-17 are part of the GOES-R series, the most recent set of satellites charged with monitoring conditions over eastern and western North America respectfully. More detailed information about the GOES-R series can be found by clicking here!
(Photo Credit: NOAA)
This new technology allows for increased efficiency and accuracy regarding the collection of important atmospheric and astronomical data. For example, this new series of satellites can record three times more data (16 bands compared to 5 bands) than previous models. Bands are simply a way of describing the different types of data a satellite can observe and include everything from visible imagery (essentially just a picture of Earth) to a more complicated calculation of water vapor content for example. A more detailed description of how these bands work and what information they tell us about the atmosphere can be found by clicking the link attached here. In addition, these satellites are able to compile data on the order of five times faster than their predecessors and distinguish between closer geographic points on the Earth’s surface than ever before. With these massive technological improvements over the past few years, recent research has been devoted to learning about how these capabilities can be further improved on future instruments and finding new ways this modern information can help scientists predict and understand the weather!
To find more articles on interesting space weather topics, click here!
©2019 Weather Forecaster Dennis Weaver