First images of Earth from newest weather satellite

May 12, 2022 | Jean Phillips

This week the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released the first images – known as first light images – from its newest weather satellite, GOES-18, launched into geostationary orbit in March 2022.

Early next year from its vantage point of 22,300 miles above Earth, the satellite will become GOES-West, the operational weather satellite tasked with providing views and atmospheric measurements of the western US and the Pacific Ocean. Its counterpart, GOES-East, covers the eastern US and the Atlantic Ocean. Combining the data and imagery from both satellites, meteorologists will have an unprecedented ‘eye’ on weather systems as they develop and travel from west to east across the country.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies, in partnership with NOAA, have lent their expertise to the planning, development and testing of sensors onboard the new satellite, as well as to the generations of satellites that have preceded it. They are participating in the post-launch check-out of GOES-18.

“We are aptly named the birthplace of satellite meteorology because we’ve been involved since the late 1950s when the field emerged,” says CIMSS Director and Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences Professor Tristan L’Ecuyer. “In fact, the proof-of-concept missions – that demonstrated we could monitor Earth’s climate and weather from space – were developed here.”

The Earth-facing instruments on GOES-18 are the Advanced Baseline Imager and the Geostationary Lightning Mapper. The ABI was designed to deliver images and data as frequently as every 30 seconds, a crucial capability when forecasters are monitoring the development of tornadoes, hurricanes or winter storms that might endanger safety or require evacuations.

The Geostationary Lightning Mapper tracks the frequency and location of lightning. More lightning activity can be a precursor to storm intensification. Armed with this information, forecasters can issue alerts before high winds, tornadoes or damaging hail develop. The GLM has also proven to be useful in monitoring lightning that can spark wildfires.

“We are excited to share these images with the public while continuing our work of providing valuable data and information to forecasters so that they can fulfill their mission to help protect lives and property,” says L’Ecuyer.