NewsOctober 16, 2015

This is the First Full Earth Image From a Weather Satellite

Brian Kahn

By Brian Kahn

Follow @blkahn

Friday marked a major anniversary for satellites. On Oct. 16, 1975, NASA sent the first in a long run of successful weather satellites into orbit more than 22,000 miles above the earth's surface.

Just nine days later, it returned its first image. Looks like a nice day for a hike in the Andes or maybe laying on the beach in Cancun (but not so much in Florida).

The first image sent back from GOES-1 on Oct. 25, 1975.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: NESDIS


The satellite, dubbed GOES-1, gave meteorologists their first near real-time view of the planet from a fixed position thousands of miles away. GOES-1 wasn't the first weather satellite in orbit (that title would belong to Tiro 1), but it was the first to be launched to such lofty heights. Most satellites hang out a couple hundred miles above the earth's surface, snapping images of different locations. GOES-1 and its successors are in geosynchronous orbit, an orbit that allows these satellites to look at the planet from a fixed position from far away. 

RELATEDNASA Satellite Spies Atmospheric Double Whammy
Panel Warns of ‘Catastrophic’ Gap in Weather Satellite Data
Japan’s New Satellite Tracks Typhoons, Imitates Art

Since that day 40 years ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other meteorological agencies around the world have launched dozens of other geosynchronous satellites that have returned millions of images. GOES-1 was decommissioned long ago, and the most recent geostationary satellites like Japan's Himawari-8 have offered vast improvements.

A most excellent retro artist's rendering of GOES-1 in orbit.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: NESDIS


NOAA currently has two newer GOES satellites in orbit and they're planning to launch another in conjunction with NASA in fall 2016. Though in recent years, NOAA has also faced funding shortfalls that could reduce its beyond-earth monitoring capabilities.

Watching the evolution of our weather is fascinating from a pure earth fanboy (or fangirl) standpoint, but it also provides crucial information for meteorologists, particularly when it comes to tracking hurricanes and severe weather. Being able to track hurricanes that are out to sea can give forecasters a better understanding of their intensity and track and without them, forecasts could suffer. And seeing severe weather develop in real-time from space can help meteorologists pinpoint where to issue tornado warnings or otherwise help people prepare in a way that on-the-ground observations can't (though on-the-ground observations are infinitely more valuable once severe weather hits). Even climate models have benefitted from improved satellite observing systems. And of couse everyone can benefit from just images of the world we live on from a unique vantage point.

You May Also Like:
El Niño Keeps Antarctic Sea Ice From Another Record Max
American Icons Threatened by Sea Level Rise: In Pictures
Energy Industries Invest in Contest to Recycle Emissions
El Niño Lifts Odds of Wetter South, Drier North This Winter