New Age in Weather Forecasting Begins with Spectacular 1st Images from NASA/NOAA GOES-16 Observatory

GOES-16 (previously known as GOES-R) captured this view of the moon as it looked across the surface of the Earth on January 15, 2017. Like earlier GOES satellites, GOES-16 will use the moon for calibration. Credit: NOAA/NASA

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – A new age has begun in the nations weather forecasting capabilities with the release today (Jan. 23) of the spectacular first images gathered by the recently launched NASA/NOAA GOES-16 observatory.

The highly advanced Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-16 (GOES-16) weather observatory lifted off two months ago atop a ULA Atlas V rocket on Nov. 19, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

GOES-16 (formerly known as GOES-R through the launch) is the first in a new series of revolutionary NASA/NOAA geostationary weather satellites that entails the first significant instrument upgrade to US weather forecasting capabilities in more than two decades.

“It will be like high-definition from the heavens,” says NOAA.

“Today’s release of the first images from #GOES16 signals the start of a new age in satellite weather observation!!!”

Thus the newly obtained and published imagery has been anxiously awaited by scientists, meteorologists and ordinary weather enthusiasts.

“This is such an exciting day for NOAA! One of our GOES-16 scientists compared this to seeing a newborn baby’s first pictures — it’s that exciting for us,” said Stephen Volz Ph.D. director of NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service, in a statement.

“These images come from the most sophisticated technology ever flown in space to predict severe weather on Earth. The fantastically rich images provide us with our first glimpse of the impact GOES-16 will have on developing life-saving forecasts.”

This image clearly shows the significant storm system that crossed North America that caused freezing and ice that resulted in dangerous conditions across the United States on January 15, 2017 resulting in loss of life. Credit: NOAA/NASA

An especially eye-popping image taken by GOES -16 from its equatorial vantage point situated in geostationary orbit 22,300 miles (35,800 kilometers) above Earth and published today, shows both the Earth and the Moon together – as the lead image here.

The Earth/Moon combo shot is not only fantastically pleasing to the eye, but also serves a significant scientific purpose.

“Like earlier GOES satellites, GOES-16 will use the moon for calibration,” say NOAA officials.

“GOES-16 will boost the nation’s weather observation network and NOAA’s prediction capabilities, leading to more accurate and timely forecasts, watches and warnings.”

GOES-16 is the most advanced and powerful weather observatory ever built and will bring about a ‘quantum leap’ in weather forecasting.

“Seeing these first images from GOES-16 is a foundational moment for the team of scientists and engineers who worked to bring the satellite to launch and are now poised to explore new weather forecasting possibilities with this data and imagery,” said Volz.

“The incredibly sharp images are everything we hoped for based on our tests before launch. We look forward to exploiting these new images, along with our partners in the meteorology community, to make the most of this fantastic new satellite.”

It’s dramatic new imagery will show the weather in real time enabling critical life and property forecasting, help pinpoint evacuation zones and also save people’s lives in impacted areas of severe weather including hurricanes and tornadoes.

And the huge satellite can’t come online soon enough, as demonstrated by the severe winter weather and tornadoes that just wreaked havoc and death in various regions of the US.

Another breathtaking image product (seen below) produced by the GOES-16 Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) instrument, built by Harris Corporation, shows a full-disc view of the Western Hemisphere in high detail — at four times the image resolution of existing GOES spacecraft.

This composite color full-disk visible image shows North and South America and was taken on January 15, 2017. It was created using several of the 16 spectral channels available on the GOES-16 Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) instrument. Credit: NOAA/NASA

The 11,000 pound satellite was built by prime contractor Lockheed Martin and is the first of a quartet of four identical satellites – comprising GOES-R, S, T, and U – at an overall cost of about $11 Billion. This will keep the GOES satellite system operational through 2036.

This next generation of GOES satellites will replace the currently operating GOES East and GOES West satellites.

NOAA will soon decide whether GOES-16 will replace either the East or West satellites. A decision from NOAA is expected in May. GOES-16 will be operational by November 2017 as either the GOES-East or GOES-West satellite. Of course everyone wants it first.

The next satellite is nearing assembly completion and will undergo about a year of rigorous environmental and acoustic testing before launch. It will go to whichever slot was not selected this year.

This 16-panel image shows the continental United States in the two visible, four near-infrared and 10 infrared channels on the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI). These channels help forecasters distinguish between differences in the atmosphere like clouds, water vapor, smoke, ice and volcanic ash. Credit: NOAA/NASA

The six instrument science suite includes the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) built by Harris Corporation, the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) built by Lockheed Martin, Solar Ultraviolet Imager (SUVI), Extreme Ultraviolet and X-Ray Irradiance Sensors (EXIS), Space Environment In-Situ Suite (SEISS), and the Magnetometer (MAG).

ABI is the primary instrument and will collect 3 times more spectral data with 4 times greater resolution and scans 5 times faster than ever before – via the primary Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) instrument – compared to the current GOES satellites.

Northeast Coast and New York Metropolitan region. On January 15, 2017 severe weather moved across the central United States before passing through the Northeast on the 16th and 17th where it resulted in wet and wintry weather for travelers across the region. Credit: NOAA/NASA

“The higher resolution will allow forecasters to pinpoint the location of severe weather with greater accuracy. GOES-16 can provide a full image of Earth every 15 minutes and one of the continental U.S. every five minutes, and scans the Earth at five times the speed of NOAA’s current GOES imagers.”

The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series) being processed at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL, in advance of successful launch on a ULA Atlas V on Nov. 19, 2016. GOES-R/GOES-16 will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

GOES-R launched on the massively powerful Atlas V 541 configuration vehicle, augmented by four solid rocket boosters on the first stage. As I witnessed and reported here.

Blastoff of revolutionary NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series) on ULA Atlas V from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on Nov. 19, 2016. GOES-R will deliver a quantum leap in America’s weather forecasting capabilities. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Florida and The Caribbean. In May 2017, NOAA will announce the planned location for GOES-16. By November 2017, GOES-16 will be operational as either the GOES-East or GOES-West satellite. At its current check out location the satellite captured this image of the Caribbean and Florida. Here the satellite captures the shallows waters of the Caribbean. Credit: NOAA/NASA

In the Cleanroom with Game Changing GOES-R Next Gen Weather Satellite – Launching Nov. 19

The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite - R Series) being processed at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL, in advance of planned launch on a ULA Atlas V slated for Nov. 19, 2016.  GOES-R will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series) being processed at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL, in advance of planned launch on a ULA Atlas V slated for Nov. 19, 2016. GOES-R will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – After an ironic detour due to Hurricane Matthew, liftoff of the game changing NASA/NOAA next generation GOES-R geostationary weather observation satellite offering a “dramatic leap in capability” is finally on track for this weekend on Nov. 19 from the Florida Space Coast.

And Universe Today recently got an up close look and briefing about the massive probe inside the cleanroom processing facility at Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, Fl.

“We are bringing the nation a new capability .. that’s a dramatic leap .. to scan the entire hemisphere in about 5 minutes,” said Greg Mandt, NOAA GOES-R program manager during a briefing in the Astrotech cleanroom.

“GOES-R has both weather and space weather detection capabilities!” Tim Gasparrini, GOES-R program manager for Lockheed Martin, told Universe Today during a cleanroom interview.

Astrotech is located just a few miles down the road from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and the KSC Visitor Complex housing the finest exhibits of numerous spaceships, hardware items and space artifacts.

The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite - R Series) being processed at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL, in advance of planned launch on a ULA Atlas V slated for Nov. 19, 2016.  GOES-R will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series) being processed at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL, in advance of planned launch on a ULA Atlas V slated for Nov. 19, 2016. GOES-R will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

GOES-R, which stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series – is a new and advanced transformational weather satellite that will vastly enhance the quality, speed and accuracy of weather forecasting available to forecasters for Earth’s Western Hemisphere.

The impact of deadly Cat 4 Hurricane Matthew on the Florida Space Coast on October 7, forced the closure of the vital Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) and the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) launch and processing vital facilities that ultimately resulted in a two week launch delay due to storm related effects and facilities damage.

Liftoff of the NASA/NOAA GOES-R weather satellite atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket is now scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 19 at 5:42 p.m. from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, shortly after sunset.

The launch window extends for an hour from 5:42-6:42 p.m. EST.

GOES-R is the first in a new series of American’s most powerful and most advanced next generation weather observation satellites. It is designed to last for a 15 year orbital lifetime.

Once in orbit it will be known as GOES-16. TV viewers are presently accustomed to seeing daily streams of imagery from the GOES-East and GOES-West weather observation satellites currently in orbit.

What’s the big deal about GOES-R?

Audiences will notice big changes from GOES-R once it becomes operational because it will provide images of weather patterns and severe storms as regularly as every five minutes or as frequently as every 30 seconds.

“These images can be used to aid in weather forecasts, severe weather outlooks, watches and warnings, lightning conditions, maritime forecasts and aviation forecasts.

“It also will assist in longer term forecasting, such as in seasonal predictions and drought outlooks. In addition, space weather conditions will be monitored constantly, including the effects of solar flares to provide advance notice of potential communication and navigation disruptions. It also will assist researchers in understanding the interactions between land, oceans, the atmosphere and climate.”

GOES-R was built by prime contractor Lockheed Martin and is the first of a four satellite series – comprising GOES-R, S, T, and U that will be keep the GOES satellite system operational through 2036.

All four of the revolutionary 11,000 pound satellites are identical. The overall cost is about $11 Billion.

“This is a very exciting time,” explained Greg Mandt, the NOAA GOES-R program manager during the Astrotech cleanroom briefing.

“This is the culmination of about 15 years of intense work for the great team of NOAA and NASA and our contractors Lockheed Martin and Harris.”

“We are bringing the nation a new capability. The GOES program has been around for about 40 years and most every American sees it every night on the weather broadcasts when they see go to the satellite imagery. And what’s really exciting is that for the first time in that 40 years we are really end to end replacing the entire GOES system. The weather community is really excited about what we are bringing.”

“It’s a dramatic leap in capability – like moving from black and white TV to HDTV.”

“We will be able to scan the entire hemisphere in about 5 minutes and do things so much faster with double the resolution.”

The NASA/NOAA/Lockheed Martin/Harris GOES-R team gives a big thumbs up for the dramatic leap in capability this next gen weather observation satellite will provide - during media briefing at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL. Launch is set for Nov. 19, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The NASA/NOAA/Lockheed Martin/Harris GOES-R team gives a big thumbs up for the dramatic leap in capability this next gen weather observation satellite will provide – during media briefing at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL. Launch is set for Nov. 19, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

It was built in facilities in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and Denver, Colorado. It arrived at Astrotech in August for final processing and checkouts of the spacecraft and instruments.

The gigantic school bus sized satellite is equipped with a suite of six instruments or sensors that are the most advanced of their kind. They will be used for three types of observations: Earth sensing, solar imaging, and space environment measuring. They will point to the Earth, the Sun and the in-situ environment of the spacecraft.

The suite includes the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI), Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM), Solar Ultraviolet Imager (SUVI), Extreme Ultraviolet and X-Ray Irradiance Sensors (EXIS), Space Environment In-Situ Suite (SEISS), and the Magnetometer (MAG).

The two Earth-pointing instruments are on the top of the spacecraft – namely ABI and GLM.

“ABI is the premier instrument on the spacecraft. When you turn on the news and see a severe storm picture, that’s the one it comes from. It takes pictures in the visible as well as the infrared (IR), near infrared (IR),” Tim Gasparrini, GOES-R program manager for Lockheed Martin, told Universe Today during a cleanroom interview.

“It is looking for things like moisture, vegetation, aerosols and fire. So it looks across a broad spectrum to determine the environmental conditions on Earth.”

ABI offers 3 times more spectral channels with 4 times greater resolution and scans 5 times faster than ever before, compared to the current GOES satellites.

The GOES-R ABI will view the Earth with 16 different spectral bands (compared to five on current GOES), including two visible channels, four near-infrared channels, and ten infrared channels, according to the mission fact sheet.

It will also carry the first operational lightning mapper ever flown in space – GLM – built by Lockheed Martin. It has a single-channel, near-infrared optical transient detector.

“This is the first lightning mapper in space and at geostationary orbit.”

“GLM takes a picture of a scene on the Earth 500 times per second. And it compares those images for a change in the scene that can detect lightning, using an algorithm,” Gasparrini told me.

“The importance of that is lightning is a precursor to severe weather. So they are hoping that GLM will up to double the tornado warning time. So instead of 10 minutes warning you get 20 minutes warning, for example.”

GLM will measure total lightning (in-cloud, cloud-to-cloud and cloud-to-ground) activity continuously over the Americas and adjacent ocean regions with near-uniform spatial resolution of approximately 10 km.

Side view of NASA/NOAA GOES-R next gen weather observation satellite shoewing asolar [anels and instruments inside Astrotech Space Operations cleanroom, in Titusville, FL. Launch is set for Nov. 19, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Side view of NASA/NOAA GOES-R next gen weather observation satellite showing solar panels and instruments inside Astrotech Space Operations cleanroom, in Titusville, FL. Launch is set for Nov. 19, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“The two solar pointing instruments are located on a platform that constantly points them at the sun – SUVI (built by Lockheed Martin and EXIS. SUVI looks at the sun in the ultraviolet and EXIS looks at the x-ray wavelengths.”

The instruments work in concert.

“SUVI detects a solar flare on he sun and EXIS measures the intensity of the flare. As it comes towards the Earth, NOAA then uses the DSCOVR satellite [launched last year] as sort of a warning buoy about 30 minutes before the Earth. This gives a warning that a geomagnetic storm is heading toward the Earth.”

“When the storm reaches the Earth, the magnetometer instrument (MAG) on GOES-R then measures the influence of the magnetic storm on the magnetic field of the Earth.”

“Then the SEISS instrument, a charged particle detector, measures the charged particle effect of the storm on the Earth at geostationary orbit.”

“So GOES-R has both weather and space weather detection capabilities!” Gasparini elaborated.

The huge bus sized satellite measures 6.1 m x 5.6 m x 3.9 m (20.0 ft x 18.4 ft x 12.8 ft) with a three-axis stabilized spacecraft bus.

It has a dry mass of 2,857 kg (6,299 lbs) and a fueled mass of 5,192 kg (11,446 lbs) at launch.

The instruments are very sensitive to contamination and the team is taking great care to limit particulate and molecular contaminants in the cleanroom. Some of the instruments have contamination budget limits of less than 10 angstroms – smaller than the diameter of a typical molecule. So there can’t even be a single layer of molecules on the instruments surface after 15 years on orbit.

GOES-R weather observation satellite instrument suite. Credit: NASA/NOAA
GOES-R weather observation satellite instrument suite. Credit: NASA/NOAA

GOES-R can also multitask according to a NASA/NOAA factsheet.

“It can scan the Western Hemisphere every 15 minutes, the Continental U.S. every 5 minutes and areas of severe weather every 30-60 seconds. All at the same time!”

GOES-R will blastoff on a ULA Atlas V in the very powerful 541 configuration, augmented by four solid rocket boosters on the first stage. The payload fairing is 5 meters (16.4 feet) in diameter and the upper stage is powered by a single-engine Centaur.

It will be launched to a Geostationary orbit some 22,300 miles above Earth.

The Atlas V booster has been assembled inside the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) at SLC-41 and will be rolled out to the launch pad Friday morning, Nov. 18 with the GOES-R weather satellite encapsulated inside the nose cone.

The weather forecast shows a 80 percent chance of favorable weather conditions for Saturday’s sunset blastoff.

GOES-R logo
GOES-R logo. Credit: NASA/NOAA

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about GOES-R weather satellite, Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, OSIRIS-REx, InSight Mars lander, ULA, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions, Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX AMOS-6 & CRS-9 rocket launch, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Orbital ATK Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Nov 17-20: “GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions to the ISS, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

GOES-R infographic
GOES-R infographic
Tim Gasparinni, GOES-R program manager for Lockheed Martin, and Ken Kremer/University Today pose with GOES-R revolutionary weather satellite inside Astrotech Space Operations cleanroom, in Titusville, FL, and built by NASA/NOAA/Lockheed Martin/Harris. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Tim Gasparinni, GOES-R program manager for Lockheed Martin, and Ken Kremer/University Today pose with GOES-R revolutionary weather satellite inside Astrotech Space Operations cleanroom, in Titusville, FL, and built by NASA/NOAA/Lockheed Martin/Harris. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Monster Cat 5 Hurricane Patricia Strongest Ever Recorded Menaces Millions in Mexico; Seen from ISS

“Hurricane #Patricia approaches #Mexico. It’s massive. Be careful” in this image taken by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly aboard the ISS on Oct. 23, 2015. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly
More images and videos below[/caption]

Hurricane Patricia, the strongest storm in recorded history with winds exceeding 190 mph (305 km/h) is right now menacing millions in Mexico after suddenly intensifying with little warning over the past day, threatening widespread catastrophic destruction as it barrels towards frightened residents along the nations Pacific coast and makes landfall this evening, Friday, Oct. 23.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly captured striking photos, above and below, of Hurricane Patricia this afternoon from aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Other NASA and NOAA weather satellites are actively monitoring and measuring the strongest storm on the planet right now.

“Hurricane #Patricia approaches #Mexico. It’s massive. Be careful,” Kelly wrote on his twitter account with a pair of images taken from the ISS.

Patricia unexpectedly intensified quite rapidly to a Category 5 storm from a tropical storm in the space of just 24 hours from yesterday to today with the significant potential for loss of life and likely widespread catastrophic damage.

This morning Patricia had sustained winds of 190 mph (305 km/h) , on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, with gusts up to 235 mph. That’s comparable to an EF-4 tornado, but its much wider.

Weather forecasters say that unusually warm waters, possibly from the current El Niño weather pattern may be causing the rapid intensification of the storm to unprecedented power never before seen.

On Oct. 23 at 17:30 UTC (1:30 p.m. EDT) NASA's Terra satellite saw the eastern quadrant of Hurricane Patricia over Mexico and the storm's pinhole eye.  Credits: NASA's Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team
On Oct. 23 at 17:30 UTC (1:30 p.m. EDT) NASA’s Terra satellite saw the eastern quadrant of Hurricane Patricia over Mexico and the storm’s pinhole eye. Credits: NASA’s Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team

“Hurricane #Patricia looks menacing from @space_station. Stay safe below,” tweeted Kelly, who just broke the American record for most time spent in space.
Patricia is making landfall near the tourist resort of Puerto Vallarta, the town of Cuixmala and the city of Manzanillo along Mexico’s Pacific coast, as it slightly weakens to 165 mph (265 km/h) with destructive force.

Here is the latest Hurricane Patricia animation from NOAA:
rb_lalo-animated 102315

Patricia is the most powerful storm ever to make landfall and many millions live in its path that is expected to track eastwards across inland areas of Mexico and then move up into the United States at Texas with flooding rains.

The Mexican government has warned millions to take shelter to evacuate. Over 15000 tourists have been evacuated from Puerto Vallarta to other regions. But the effort was hampered since the airport has been closed.

Catastrophic destruction to homes, businesses and infrastructure is feared.

Some 10 to 20 inches of rain is expected along the coast, causing mudslides across Mexico.

Waves heights exceeding 30 feet are also expected.

Heavy rains and flash flooding will continue into the US with the heaviest downpours expected in Texas and Louisiana.

Hurricane Patricia on Oct. 23, 2015 from the National Hurricane Center
Hurricane Patricia on Oct. 23, 2015 from the National Hurricane Center

Here’s the 7 PM CDT advisory from the National Hurricane Center:

“EXTREMELY DANGEROUS HURRICANE PATRICIA MOVING FARTHER INLAND OVER SOUTHWESTERN MEXICO”

“The center of Hurricane Patricia was located near latitude 19.5 North, longitude 104.9 West. Patricia ismoving toward the north-northeast near 15 mph (24 km/h) and this motion is expected to continue with some increase in forward speed tonight and Saturday. On the forecast track, the center of Patricia should continue to move inland over southwestern Mexico.

Patricia is expected to move quickly north-northeastward across western and northern Mexico through Saturday.

Satellite images indicate that Patricia has continued to weaken, and maximum sustained winds are estimated to be near 160 mph (260 km/h) with higher gusts. Patricia is a category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Patricia is forecast to rapidly weaken over the mountains of Mexico and dissipate on Saturday.

Hurricane force winds extend outward up to 35 miles (55 km) from the center and tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 175 miles (280 km).

The estimated minimum central pressure is 924 mb (27.29 inches).”

Here’s a video of Hurricane Patricia from the ISS taken today, Oct 23, 2015.

Video caption: Outside the International Space Station, cameras captured dramatic views of Hurricane Patricia at 12:15 p.m. EDT on October 23, 2015 as the mammoth system moved north at about 10 mph, heading for a potentially catastrophic landfall along the southwest coast of Mexico sometime during the day, according to the National Hurricane Center. Packing winds of 200 miles per hour, Patricia is the strongest in recorded history in the southeastern Pacific Ocean. The National Hurricane Center says that once Patricia crosses the Mexican coast it should weaken quickly and dissipate Oct. 24 due to upper level winds and mountainous terrain, but likely will introduce copious amounts of rainfall to the Texas coast through the weekend. Credit: NASA

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Hurricane Patricia approaches Mexico in this image taken by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly aboard the ISS on Oct. 23, 2015. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly
Hurricane Patricia approaches Mexico in this image taken by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly aboard the ISS on Oct. 23, 2015. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly

Borderline Cat 5 Hurricane Joaquin Spied from International Space Station

As the powerful category 4 Hurricane Joaquin was pounding the Bahamas and packing winds of over 130 mph, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly captured a stunning photo of Joaquin on Friday morning, Oct. 2 from his perch aboard the International Space Station (ISS). As of today, Oct. 3. Joaquin has gained strength to 150 mph and is a borderline Cat 5 storm!

Coincidentally, Kelly snapped the photo within hours of the milestone 100th straight successful rocket launch by United Launch Alliance (ULA) on Oct. 2, of the firms Atlas V rocket carrying Mexico’s next generation Morelos-3 communications satellite from Florida to orbit.

Kelly’s spectacular storm photo shows the eye of Hurricane Joaquin over the Caribbean and off the US eastern seaboard with the limb of the Earth and our atmosphere in beautiful detail.

Huge thunderstorms can been off to the north of the immense category 4 storm.

And as of today, Saturday, Oct. 3, Hurricane Joaquin has further strengthened and is now packing maximum sustained winds of 150 MPH or 240 KM/H, according to the latest advisory issued by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) as of 5 p.m. EDT.

Kelly posted the Oct. 2 photo of Joaquin with this caption on his twitter account:

“Early morning shot of Hurricane #Joaquin from @space_station before reaching #Bahamas. Hope all is safe. #YearInSpace.”

Two of the stations solar panels are seen in the photo as well as portions of the US east coast including Florida.

The latest NHC forecast shows Joaquin veering away from the US East Coast. But it’s still creating hurricane force winds and high waves that is threatening Bermuda.

“SEVERE HURRICANE JOAQUIN THREATENING BERMUDA,” said the NHC today.

It is moving northeast at 45 degrees at 17 MPH or 28 KM/H.

Kelly snapped another telling view of Joaquin on Thursday, Oct. 1 showing the Bahamas and Miami in the field of view.

Kelly tweeted; “#HurricaneJoaquin churns over the #Bahamas with #Miami in the field of view from @Space_Station.”

#HurricaneJoaquin churns over the #Bahamas with #Miami in the field of view from @Space_Station #YearInSpace.  Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly
#HurricaneJoaquin churns over the #Bahamas with #Miami in the field of view from @Space_Station #YearInSpace. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly

Scott Kelly is a member of the first ever 1 year ISS mission crew comprising Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko.

They arrived at the ISS in March and had just reached the midpoint of their nearly 12 month stay aimed at conducting research to explore the impact of long term stays in space on the human body and aid NASA’s long term plans for a human ‘Journey to Mars’ in the 2030s.

NASA and NOAA satellites are keeping constant watch on the progress of the powerful Hurricane Joaquin, that earlier had the potential to barrel towards tens of millions of US coastal residents.

Here’s another stunning view of Hurricane Joaquin taken by the GOES-West satellite on Oct. 1.

This stunning image of Hurricane Joaquin is from NOAA's GOES West satellite on Oct. 1 2015. Many portions of the eastern U.S. are currently experiencing heavy rains and gusty winds associated with a frontal system.   Credit: NOAA
This stunning image of Hurricane Joaquin is from NOAA’s GOES West satellite on Oct. 1 2015. Many portions of the eastern U.S. are currently experiencing heavy rains and gusty winds associated with a frontal system. Credit: NOAA

This visible image from NASA’s Aqua satellite shows Hurricane Joaquin over Bahamas on Oct. 1.

NASA's Aqua satellite captured this visible image of Hurricane Joaquin over Bahamas on Oct. 1 at 17:55 UTC (1:55 p.m. EDT).  Credits: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team
NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this visible image of Hurricane Joaquin over Bahamas on Oct. 1 at 17:55 UTC (1:55 p.m. EDT). Credits: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

How to (Hopefully) Find Clear Skies for Tonight’s Total Lunar Eclipse

We’ve arrived at eclipse day, so now the big question is, will it be clear? My favorite forecast for major astronomical events reads something like this: Fair skies tonight with light winds and lows in the middle 50s.While I hope that’s exactly what’s predicted for your town, in my corner of the world we’re expecting “increasing clouds with a chance for thunderstorms”.

That’s just not nice. Same by you? Here’s how to find that clear spot if you’re facing bad weather tonight.

One of my favorite cloud-checking sites is the GOES East view of the U.S., Canada and Central America taken from geostationary orbit. Credit: NASA
One of my favorite cloud-checking sites is the GOES East view of the U.S., Canada and Central America taken from geostationary orbit. This map shows the scene at 10:45 a.m. CDT this morning. Credit: NASA

I usually check the GOES (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite) images that weather forecasters use to display and animate the movement of clouds and weather fronts during the nightly newscasts. Once I know the location and general drift of the clouds, I get in a car and drive to where it’s likely to either remain or become clear. Depending on the “magnitude” of the event I might drive 50 to 150 miles. If nothing else, doing astronomy guarantees many adventures.

GOES West view of the western U.S., Canada and Hawaii taken at 11 a.m. CDT. Credit: NASA
GOES West view of the western U.S., Canada and Hawaii taken at 11 a.m. CDT. Credit: NASA

You’ll find these most helpful images at either the GOES East site, which features a photo of the entire mainland U.S., Central America and much of Canada, updated every 15 minutes. Since the satellite taking the photos is centered over the 75° west parallel of longitude, its focus is primarily the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. and Canada. For the western U.S., western Canada and Hawaii, head over to the GOES West site.

After you set the width and height to maximum values, you'll get a picture like this which was taken at 11 a.m. CDT and features the upper and lower Midwest. Credit: NASA
After you set the width and height to maximum values, you’ll get a picture like this, taken at 11 a.m. CDT. Credit: NASA

Once there, you’ll be presented with a big picture view of the U.S., etc., but you can click anywhere on the map for a zoomed-in look at a particular region. Before you do, set the “width” and “height” boxes to their maximum values of 1400 (width) and 1000 (height). That way you’ll get a full-screen, nifty, 1-kilometer image when you go in close. All images have a time stamp in the upper left corner given in Universal or Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Subtract 4 hours to convert to Easter Daylight; 5 for CDT; 6 for MDT and 7 for PDT.

You can check back all day long for fresh photos and watch the march of the clouds over time. Or you can have the site assemble up to 30 of the most recent images into an animation loop and watch it as a movie. Combing current photos, the animation and your local forecast will inform your plans about whether to remain at home to watch the eclipse or get the heck out of town.

Infrared image of the east-central U.S. at 11 a.m. CDT today. Credit: NASA
Infrared image of the east-central U.S. at 11 a.m. CDT today. Clouds can be seen and tracked at night using the infrared channel on the GOES East and West sites. Credit: NASA

When night arrives, you can still get a reasonably good idea of where the clouds are and aren’t by clicking on the infrared channel link at the top of the site. I also like to use the NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research Real-Time Weather Data) site. They offer a black and white infrared option that provides a clearer picture. At the site, select your “channel” then click on one of the regional acronyms on the interactive U.S. map.

So far, we’ve been talking about the weather in real time. When it comes to forecasts, one of the most useful tools of all and a true godsend to amateur astronomers is Attilla Danko’s ClearDarkSky site. Click on the Clear Sky Charts link to access interactive charts for thousands of locations across the U.S., Canada and parts of Mexico. For example, if you click on Illinois, you’ll get a list of sky conditions for 105 locations throughout the state. The Chicago link pops up six rows of data-packed squares with colors ranging from deep blue to white.

The cloud cover forecast for Chicago for the next day as depicted in Attilla Danko's Clear Dark Sky site. Copyright: Attilla Danko
The cloud cover forecast for Chicago today Sept. 27 through early Tuesday Sept. 29 as depicted in Attilla Danko’s Clear Dark Sky site. The forecasts can be sponsored for a donation by various groups or individuals. This one is by the Chicago Astronomical Society. Copyright: Attilla Danko

The first row indicates cloud clover with varying shades of blue representing the percentage of clear sky. Medium blue means partly cloudy; white indicates 100% overcast. Additional data sets include sky transparency, seeing conditions, hours of darkness, wind, temperature and humidity. While no forecast is 100% accurate, the reliability of the models Danko uses makes Clear Sky Charts one of best tools available for skywatchers. Want a real treat? If you click on one of the squares in the Cloud Cover row, a large image showing cloud cover at the time will pop up. You’ll also find another, more general interactive cloud forecast graphic at WeatherForYou.com.

Thanks to a helpful reader suggestion, I recently learned of Clear Outside, a forecasting site similar to Clear Sky Charts but worldwide. Be sure to check it out. Satellite imagery like the U.S. GOES East and West is available for European and African observers at Sat24.

So what does the U.S. look like for weather tonight? Mostly clear skies are expected from New York State up through Maine, across the center of the country, the desert Southwest and the Northwest. Expect partly cloudy conditions (with some mostly cloudy spots) for the Upper and central Midwest, and mostly cloudy to overcast skies in the southern and southeastern seaboard states.

But who knows? By using these sites, you might just improve your chances of seeing what promises to be a spectacular lunar eclipse tonight. Some of you reading this undoubtedly have your own favorite weather hangouts. Please share them with us in the comments section. The more the merrier!

As always, if you’re completely shut out, here are a few sites where you can watch it live on the Web: