It’s been close to three months since the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) launched the GOES-17 weather satellite into space, and so far, things haven’t been 100 percent smooth. Currently, there are problems with the satellite’s cooling system, but even as that issue is still being sorted out, NOAA teamed up with NASA earlier this week to release the first few images of Earth from GOES-17’s point of view.
According to reports from BGR and The Verge, the photos show Earth’s Western Hemisphere “bathed in sunlight” and in extraordinary detail, as taken by the satellite’s Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) instrument on May 20. This instrument is capable of scanning Earth in 16 spectral bands, including visible, infrared, and near-infrared channels, which, in theory, allows GOES-17 to provide more accurate extreme weather forecasts, as it goes farther in observing and analyzing the temperature changes and movement patterns of various types of clouds.
Aside from the aforementioned photos, NASA also released a video that features several of the photos taken by GOES-17, stitched together to show how the sun’s rays “dance across Earth’s surface” while the rest of the world is covered by the darkness of night. And while some might not be overly impressed by the photos at first glance, as BGR opined, that’s because the images were shrunk down by most publications to a more manageable size for easier viewing. NASA’s full-resolution version weighs in at 82MB, and could take a while to completely load up on slower devices.
“Once you’re zoomed in to the photo’s original resolution you’ll see just how incredibly detailed it is,” BGR’s Mike Wehner wrote.
“You can see incredibly tiny features of the surface, light wisps of clouds, and even the shape of the ocean floor in shallow areas. It’s pretty wild.”
— Fred Sharples (@fredsharples) June 2, 2018
While GOES-17 was able to send back some stunning images of our planet despite the cooling system issues, the satellite’s ABI is still affected by the problem as of this writing, according to The Verge. In a statement emailed to the publication, University of Wisconsin research meteorologist Jordan Gerth explained that this could pose more problems going forward, as the ABI’s infrared channel detectors have to be completely cooled down so that the satellite accurately detects incoming infrared radiation from Earth. This is essential when detecting clouds at night, and if the ABI’s infrared system isn’t working properly, that could result in “significant degradation in the quality of the imagery,” said Gerth.
At the moment, GOES-17 is still months away from ending its testing phase and moving on to full operations. That should allow enough time for the cooling system to be fixed, but in case it isn’t, NOAA will be considering its options among several “alternative concepts” and modes to ensure that the ABI instrument works like it should, according to NOAA Satellite and Information Services assistant administrator Stephen Volz.