These Are The Best Satellite Images of Earth's Weather Taken So Far
The new images from NOAA's GOES-16 satellite show why Earth science is so vital at a time when the Trump Administration has called it into question.
Get ready to revel in some next-level planetary beauty, because on Monday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released the first images taken by its GOES-16 weather satellite, launched in November 2016.
Perched 22,300 miles above Earth, the spacecraft has a spectacular view of our world's complex atmospheric dynamics. Take this stunning shot of the Americas, snapped on January 15, which captures the fine details of meteorological phenomena like cloud cover, storm development, and the flow of global air currents.
GOES-16's pictures were taken by the Advanced Baseline Imager, the satellite's high-definition camera, which was built by the Harris Corporation. The instrument can take pictures across 16 different wavelength channels—two visible, four near-infrared, and ten infrared. This versatility helps scientists identify traces of smoke, volcanic ash, water vapor, and other substances in Earth's atmosphere.
GOES-16 has four times the image resolution of the existing Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) fleet, plus it can churn out five times as many new visuals of Earth over the same timeframe as the older GOES orbiters. The spacecraft is the first member of NOAA's next-generation GOES-R fleet; three more sister ships are slated for launch over the coming years.
GOES-16 can image the entire planet once every 15 minutes, and render shots of the continental United States in only five. It is also decked out with five other sophisticated instruments, including a lightning tracker, a magnetometer, and solar sensors that will eventually be used to image the Sun in extreme ultraviolet and X-ray wavelengths.
NOAA scientists are thrilled at the high level of precision in this initial photoset, which bodes well for GOES-16's central objective of providing unprecedented forecasts and monitoring of severe weather situations.
In the wake of this weekend's deadly tornadoes in the American southeast, the mission seems more topical than ever. Constant surveillance of Earth's weather patterns will be essential to protecting communities threatened by extreme storms, especially because climate change is expected to increasingly exacerbate these natural disasters.
To that point, these impressive initial portraits from GOES-16 are more than cosmic eye candy—they also demonstrate the value of Earth science missions for understanding dangerous weather events and mitigating the damage caused by them.
While the Obama administration increased investments in NASA/NOAA Earth-observation satellites, President Trump's space advisors have stated that under the new administration, Earth science will be marginalized in favor of human interplanetary exploration. This shift in focus could put enterprising missions like GOES-16 at risk, at a time when many regions of the planet are teetering on the brink of environmental collapse.
Hopefully, NOAA's newly released images will remind the public of the aesthetic, scientific, and public health gains that hinge on better views of the planet we all live on.
What better way to drive that point home than with the satellite's wonderful shot of the Yucatan Peninsula, where the dinosaur-killing asteroid struck 66 million years ago—a geological reminder of the cosmic fragility of Earth and its inhabitants.
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