In January, we watched in wonder as NASA's GOES-16 satellite forwarded a gorgeous view of our Blue Marble back to Earth. The satellite is on a mission to monitor Earth weather, but it also specializes in tracking lightning strikes and thunderstorms. NASA shared some of its first lightning images on Monday.
The GOES-16 Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) instrument is the first of its kind. It essentially looks for brief, bright flashes of light that indicate the presence of lightning, including both in-cloud and cloud-to-ground strikes.
"When combined with radar and other satellite data, GLM data may help forecasters anticipate severe weather and issue flood and flash flood warnings sooner," says NASA. It can also help monitor areas where lightning causes wildfires.
GOES-16, a joint project from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, hangs out about 22,300 miles (36,000 kilometers) above the planet and keeps an eye on the Western Hemisphere.
NASA released a video animation of lightning events during a Texas storm in mid-February as an example of what GOES-16 can see from above. A still image, also released on Monday, collects one hour of GLM lightning data shown over a gray-scale picture of Earth. Bright red, orange and yellow areas note the optical intensity of strikes.
The satellite launched in November 2016 on a mission to monitor everything from hurricanes to solar flares. The lightning mapper is just one of a suite of high-tech tools designed to help forecasters track storms and issue timely severe weather warnings.
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