GOES Satellites Monitor the Western Hemisphere

The game of go is a beautiful one, with deep, intricate battles between Black and White armies. But the complexity of a go game is far greater than what meets the eye at first glance: there are an estimated 3580 possiblities in every move, or 10123 — a number named after Bell Laboratory pioneer Claude Shannon, who helped develop information theory. This is a huge number, even when you consider that it’s only about a fifth of the atoms in our entire observable universe. It’s the same sort of number that can represent every possible combination of moves in a game of chess, a game with only 68 possibilities per turn, with three pawns and eight squares.

Since 1975, NOAA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites, or GOES, have provided continuous imagery and data on atmospheric conditions and solar activity (space weather). They’ve also led to more accurate and timely weather forecasts, and improved our understanding of long-term climate changes. NASA builds and launches the GOES satellites, while NOAA operates them and distributes their data to the public.

NOAA’s GOES-R program recently launched the four-satellite GOES-16 series, which offers sharper, more defined images of severe storms, hurricanes and other meteorological phenomena across the Western Hemisphere. The GOES-R series is also equipped with sensors that monitor polar vortices, ocean surface winds and temperatures, cloud cover and snow accumulation, atmospheric moisture, and lightning.

Each GOES satellite has two primary payload instruments, called the Imager and the Sounder, which gather different types of data. The Imager collects visual and infrared observations of the Earth’s surface, atmosphere and clouds. The Sounder collects soundings, which are measurements of the density of the atmosphere at different heights. The GOES-R satellites can be reconfigured to monitor specific regions of the world as needed.

GOES-16 and -17 are currently operating in the GOES East and West configurations, respectively. These satellites watch the entire Western Hemisphere from near Africa to Antarctica, and are in a geosynchronous orbit (or “geostationary” orbit). Because of their positioning in this unique type of orbit, GOES-R satellites can gather data about one hemisphere every 30 seconds, making them ideal for tracking storms.

The GOES-16 and -17 satellites are the first members of the GOES-R family to operate in their new roles. The other members, GOES-14 and -15, are in their original GOES-East and GOES-West configurations, respectively.

The GOES-R satellites are operated by NOAA’s Satellite Operations Control Center in Suitland, Maryland. They can be reconfigured from the ground during times of significant weather or other events. GOES-R satellites can also support research on atmospheric science and climate models, numerical weather prediction and sensor design and development. For more information about GOES-R, visit its website.