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article imageOp-Ed: Tropical systems and lava flow as seen by our 'eyes in the sky'

By Karen Graham     May 25, 2018 in Science
Hundreds of satellites are orbiting the Earth in either polar or geostationary positions. And while we know there are military and telecommunication satellites, perhaps the most important ones are the satellites that monitor the weather and environment.
And yes, I am probably biased, but the satellite imagery we are getting from our eyes in the sky today is absolutely amazing. And today's technological marvels are far different than the first weather satellites put into orbit nearly 60 years ago.
Coupled with the technology and instant Internet access available today, we can view just about any weather event around the world in real-time. What can I say? - we have come a long way in a very short amount of time.
The first weather satellite to be considered a success was TIROS-1, launched by NASA on April 1, 1960. It operated for 78 days and was the precursor for the Nimbus program, whose technology and findings are the heritage of most of the Earth-observing satellites NASA and NOAA have launched since then.
First television image of Earth from space. Taken from TIROS-1 on April 1  1960.
First television image of Earth from space. Taken from TIROS-1 on April 1, 1960.
And even though the first satellite images gave us information on cloud cover and cloud systems such as fronts and tropical storms, the images of lakes, forests, mountains, snow ice, fires, and pollution such as smoke, smog, dust, and haze were also readily apparent to even the untrained eye.
But with the use of microwave and infrared detection systems, meteorology became the realm of scientists or climatologists. Weather satellites now come equipped with scanning radiometers producing thermal or infrared images, which can then enable a trained analyst to determine cloud heights and types, to calculate land and surface water temperatures, and to locate ocean surface features.
Infrared Satellite Image from NOAA GOES Eastern Sector Image  taken 1315 UTC 15 October 2006.
Infrared Satellite Image from NOAA GOES Eastern Sector Image, taken 1315 UTC 15 October 2006.
The main advantage of infrared is that images can be produced at night, allowing a continuous sequence of weather to be studied, making today's weather satellites far more effective when following the formation of a tropical cyclone.
Types of weather satellites
There are two types of weather satellites, polar-orbiting and geostationary. Both satellite systems have unique characteristics and produce very different products. The two polar-orbiting satellites, in their north-south orbits, observe the same spot on the Earth twice daily, once during the daylight and once at night. Polar-orbiting satellites provide imagery and atmospheric soundings of temperature and moisture data over the entire Earth.
The East-West orbit of GOES satellites (on the left) depicted in the red circle with the yellow box....
The East-West orbit of GOES satellites (on the left) depicted in the red circle with the yellow box. The North-South orbit of Polar orbiting satellites, (on the right) depicted in the yellow line.
National Weather Service
Geostationary satellites are in orbit 22,000 miles above the equator, spin at the same rate as the Earth and constantly focus on the same area. This enables the satellite to take a picture of the Earth, at the same location, every 30 minutes. Computer processing of this data creates “movie loops” of the data that forecasters use as their real-time “bird’s eye view” from space.
European Space Agency's Sentinel program
Two European Space Agency (ESA) satellites known as Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-1B orbit the Earth as a constellation about 180 degrees apart every six days, Day-in and day-out, sending back data and images that are central to Europe’s Copernicus program.
The SENTINEL-1 mission is the European Radar Observatory for the Copernicus joint initiative of the ...
The SENTINEL-1 mission is the European Radar Observatory for the Copernicus joint initiative of the European Commission (EC) and the European Space Agency (ESA).
The two satellites were joined by the Sentinel-2B, an optical imaging satellite that was launched on 7 March 2017. It is the second Sentinel-2 satellite launched as part of the European Space Agency's Copernicus Programme.
The current location of the rift on Larsen C  as of May 1 2017. Labels highlight significant jumps. ...
The current location of the rift on Larsen C, as of May 1 2017. Labels highlight significant jumps. Tip positions are derived from Landsat (USGS) and Sentinel-1 InSAR (ESA) data. Background image blends BEDMAP2 Elevation (BAS) with MODIS MOA2009 Image mosaic (NSIDC). Other data from SCAR ADD and OSM.
Project MIDAS
Sentinel-2B carries a wide swath high-resolution multispectral imager with 13 spectral bands. It will provide information for agriculture and forestry, among others allowing for prediction of crop yields. So keep in mind that although the Sentinel Earth imaging and NOAA's weather satellites are observing different things, they use almost the same kinds of technology.
Amazing images Sentinel and GOES capture
Now, I know some people will be bored out of their minds with talk of satellites and weather, but none of us can deny that technology has given the world some fantastic things - And one is the imagery sent back to Earth of scenes most of us will never see again.
The European Space Agency s Sentinel 2 B satellite snapped a photo of Kilauea from above on May 23  ...
The European Space Agency's Sentinel 2 B satellite snapped a photo of Kilauea from above on May 23, showing off the bright lava channels bringing the molten rock up to the Big Island's surface. The cropped image is on the left and the full image is on the right.
As Mashable points out, when seen from space, we get a whole new perspective on the size of the Kilauea volcano eruption and how much of the Big Island is being affected. It looks a lot different and less imposing from above the Earth, doesn't it?
Even crews in the International Space Station have been monitoring the Kilauea volcano eruption, taking pictures from the orbiting laboratory's huge windows. "Сlouds of volcanic ash rise in the air at 3.7 thousand meters, that's why it is easy to see even from the @Space_Station," space station cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov wrote on Twitter.
NOAA has weather satellites covering almost every region on Earth, constantly monitoring the weather, along with ESA and other countries satellites. And with the advanced technologies in broadspectrum visable and infrared wavelengths, everything from water vapor to cloud heights, temperatures, ocean waves and wind intensity can be measured.
Below is some imagery taken by the Meteosat-8 satellite today, just a few hours ago of Tropical Cyclone Mekunu in Oman. The storm is among the country's strongest storms on record. Mekunu reached Category 3 strength today, with sustained winds of 115 mph.
GOES-East looks at Alberto
Let's look at some up to date, real-time imagery of sub-tropical Storm Alberto, as seen by the GOES-16 satellite. Alberto is expected to move out over the Gulf of Mexico bringing torrential rains and rip-currents to the eastern Gulf coast and Florida.
This is Band 14 on GEOS-16.
This is Band 14 on GEOS-16.
Band 14 is an 11.2 µm - Infrared Longwave Window Band with 2 km resolution - the traditional longwave infrared window band, is used to diagnose discrete clouds and organized features for general weather forecasting, analysis, and broadcasting applications. Observations from this IR window channel characterize atmospheric processes associated with extratropical cyclones and also in single thunderstorms and convective complexes.
The Earth, and the view from above is amazing, and anyone can view these images, 24 hours a day every day. Notice how many people have viewed the above imagery of tropical storm Alberto? For those of you interested in seeing a different image of the world, go to the NOAA GOES website - but be careful. It is addictive.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Satellites, weather observations, geocentric, Sentinel 2B, GEOS16
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