How NASA’s GOES Satellites Are Helping Forecasters and Meteorologists Track Hurricanes and Severe Storms

Go is a fascinating game that has been around for thousands of years, with the earliest records of board layouts dating to at least 2,000 BCE. Today, it is played around the world in tournaments and casual games. Unlike chess, where the number of legal moves is limited to about 35, Go has many more spaces and an infinite number of possible configurations. This vastly increases the complexity of the game and makes it difficult for exhaustive computer programs to find the best moves.

The goal of the game is to capture the opponent’s groups, while preserving one’s own groups. The number of liberties (free points) that a group has is counted, and situations where mutually opposing groups must capture each other or die are called “capturing races” in Japanese (“semeai”). The more liberties a player’s groups have, the stronger they are.

Players can use a simple paper board and coins, plastic tokens or coffee beans for the stones, but more expensive traditional materials are still used by many. The most expensive Go sets include boards carved from slate or wood and stones crafted from transparent white shells. In addition, there are many specialized pieces of equipment that allow for different types of play, including mirrors, electronic devices and clocks to track time spent in each phase of the game.

For 40 years, geostationary environmental satellites known as the GOES have provided continuous imagery and data on atmospheric conditions and solar activity, or space weather, to support the National Weather Service’s forecasting and severe storm tracking operations. The GOES system consists of two satellites, GOES-East and GOES-West, which provide a nearly constant stream of real-time Earth observations across North America and the Pacific Ocean.

The GOES system also relays distress signals, or Search and Rescue Satellite Transmissions (S&RSAT), sent from people in aircraft or marine vessels to the nearest S&RSAT receiving station.

GOES data products are widely used by scientists, emergency management officials and private industry. The system’s data has contributed to safer transportation, improved agricultural productivity, and a better understanding of long-term climate conditions.

In 2020, GOES-16 and -17 helped forecasters and meteorologists prepare for and respond to 30 named storms — including six major hurricanes. GOES-16 and 17 have also contributed to the rapid detection and monitoring of wildfires, especially in areas where fires can quickly spread.

The GOES-R Series program is managed through an integrated NOAA/NASA office, with NOAA responsible for satellite operation and distribution of GOES data. NASA manages the design, build and launch of GOES satellites. NOAA maintains a full-time staff at the NOAA Satellite Operations Center in Maryland to perform mission operations for the GOES-R Series satellites.