GOES Satellites and Their Instruments


GOES has provided continuous images and data on atmospheric conditions and solar activity since 1975. Its data products have revolutionized forecasting and helped scientists better understand long-term climate conditions.

Designed to operate in geostationary orbit, 35,790 km (22,240 mi) above the Earth’s surface, GOES satellites are constantly watching over the North American and Pacific oceans and parts of Central America, South America, and southern Canada. Their three-axis, body-stabilized design allows the sensors to “stare” at the Earth and provide real-time coverage of local weather events such as severe storms and hurricanes.

In addition, the GOES satellites have a wide range of instruments that allow meteorologists to monitor and forecast the entire Earth’s environment, including clouds, surface temperatures, water vapour, and vertical thermal and vapor structures in the atmosphere. Scientists use a technique called infrared thermodynamic imaging to collect and analyze the data from these instruments.

Most GOES satellites have two sensors that can see the entire Earth in one plane, or “full-disc.” These instruments are sensitive to short and long wavelengths of thermal infrared radiation that is emitted by Earth. At higher altitudes, oxygen, carbon dioxide, ozone, and methane absorb the longer wavelengths of thermal infrared radiation while allowing the shorter wavelengths to pass through.

The GOES instruments are also very effective at monitoring cloud tops and water vapor in the upper atmosphere, where the atmosphere is not as thick as it is at lower altitudes. These instruments are sensitive to long-wavelength infrared radiation and can measure the height of the cloud tops, the moisture content, and the temperature variations with altitude.

Using these instruments, scientists can determine how quickly the clouds move and where they form. They can then estimate the wind speed and direction.

This information is important for detecting the formation of thunderstorms, which can lead to tornadoes and other damaging winds. It can also be used to track rain bands, which can affect the progress of tropical cyclones.

Each GOES instrument has regular schedules that allow it to scan certain areas of the Earth on a daily basis. These schedules can change as conditions change and meteorologists need to know more about what’s going on at any given time.

They can also scan areas of the globe multiple times a day. This is called an “imager/sounder schedule.”

The imager and sounder on GOES-R scan the Earth five times faster than previous GOES, providing a higher resolution image that enables more accurate and reliable forecasts and severe weather warnings. The imager also uses new sensors for multispectral imagery, a Geostationary Lightning Mapper, and a Magnetometer that can identify the location of magnetic anomalies in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The GOES-R series is the next generation of NOAA’s GOES satellites, which were launched on 19 November 2016. They are part of an $11 billion effort to improve the ability to detect and observe environmental phenomena that directly impact public safety and our nation’s economy.