GOES Satellites Are a Powerful Metaphor for Complex Problems

In the game of go, players place black and white stones on a square wooden board (goban) checkered by 19 vertical lines and 19 horizontal ones. Each stone has a point of intersection with one of the line segments, and the aim is to conquer territory by completely surrounding vacant points with boundaries made up of your own pieces. The number of possible moves is huge, about 3580 (or 10123), a fact that makes go the hardest game in the world to program computers to play. The chess program Deep Blue was considered to have reached master level by some, but it has been surpassed in recent years by programs that use the Monte Carlo tree search technique-born of sin at Los Alamos Laboratory in the 1940s when it was used to design nuclear weapons.

Go is a fascinating game, but it is also a powerful metaphor for a complex problem. It demonstrates how even with very limited resources, the human brain can accomplish amazing things by making clever use of the simple rules and limited knowledge available to it. This is why it is so popular, despite the many controversies that surround the game.

The GOES satellites are part of NOAA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites system and provide continuous imagery and data on atmospheric conditions, solar activity, space weather, and more. NOAA provides the National Weather Service with the data to support weather forecasting and severe storm tracking, and scientific researchers use the data for longer-term weather trends and climate studies.

Located in geostationary orbit 35,790 kilometers (22,240 miles) above the Earth, GOES East and GOES West keep an eye on more than half of the planet, from Africa to New Zealand and from near the Arctic Circle to near Antarctica. The GOES spacecraft have been continuously operational since 1975. NASA builds and launches the satellites, and NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service operates them.

Each GOES satellite is equipped with three instruments that detect visible light, infrared, and radio waves to observe the atmosphere and its clouds. The Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) takes images of the Earth every six seconds and transmits them to the NOAA GOES Ground System at the Wallops Command and Control Facility in Virginia, where they are processed and distributed.

ABI products are available directly from the satellite, via the Satellite Broadcast Network (SBN), or over the Commercial Off-The-Shelf System (COTS) for CLASS. ABI images and derived products are also distributed over the Internet by NOAA GOES Web Pages.

The GOES Image Browser is a good source of archived imagery and data. NOAA also keeps a complete set of digital GOES data on its GOES Data Book site.