Three days in the life of Earth as seen by GOES-17, soon slated to be our latest operational weather satellite

By Tom Yulsman | November 18, 2018 6:53 pm
An animation of GOES-17 satellite images shows the full disk of our planet over three days between Nov. 19 and 22, 2018. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA Slider)

An animation of GOES-17 satellite images. (Source: CIRA/RAMMB/SLIDER)

The newest U.S. weather satellite has moved into its operational position over the Pacific Ocean and is sending back stunning imagery despite a problem with its primary instrument.

You can get a taste of that imagery in the animation above, showing the full disk of our planet over three days between Nov. 19 and 22, 2018. Click the image, and then make sure to zoom in and explore.

Here’s another example of beautiful imagery from the satellite, designated GOES-17:

GOES-17 was launched on March 1, 2018, and in the ensuing months it has been undergoing post-launch checkout and testing. After a three-week drift starting on October 24, The spacecraft arrived at its current position on Nov. 13. More testing is to come before it is scheduled to become officially operational as NOAA’s GOES West satellite on December 10, 2018.

GOES-17 and GOES-16 positions

The geographical coverage area of the GOES East and West satellites. (Source: NOAA)

GOES-17 now joins its sister satellite, GOES-16, which operates in the GOES-East position. Together, the two satellites view more than half the Earth in glorious high-definition – from West Africa all the way to New Zealand.

In May 2018, scientists discovered that a cooling system in the satellite’s primary instrument, the Advanced Baseline Imager, was not operating as designed. As a result of the malfunction, the ABI detectors cannot be kept at their intended temperatures under certain orbital conditions.

This example of degraded GOES-17 imagery was acquired Aug. 14, 2018 near the time of peak detector temperatures. Band 16 is among the first to degrade when the detectors warm up; other IR bands are still fine at the higher temperatures. NOAA estimates that the satellite can deliver on 97 percent of its capabilities. (Source: NOAA Satellite and Information Service)

This example of degraded GOES-17 imagery was acquired on Aug. 14, 2018 near the time of peak temperatures within the ABI instrument. (Source: NOAA Satellite and Information Service)

The upshot: At times, the ABI instrument cannot see some of the infrared radiation emanating upward from Earth. That’s because this heat energy is being swamped by emanations from warm parts of the imager itself, thereby degrading the signal.

But all is not lost. Far from it. Scientists have been working to optimize the performance of Advanced Baseline Imager, and the instrument is now projected to deliver 97 percent of the data it was intended to provide.

That’s quite a bit more than the current GOES West satellite. In fact, according to NOAA:

GOES-17 is observing with more channels, at a higher resolution, and with more rapid refresh than what is available from the current GOES West satellite.

To create your own animations of GOES-17 imagery, check out the interactive SLIDER tool.



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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