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Recently, we received an email from a viewer who asked an interesting question:

“Jason: You mentioned something ever so quickly [Friday night] … Go 16, 17 satellites? What are they and will we mere mortals ever see them and their great new images ” of the fires in California” ???” – Kathleen Douglas

I went back and watched Jason’s 10pm newscast from Friday evening — he mentioned “GOES 16 and GOES 17”, which are Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (or GOES for short). Both NOAA and NASA use the GOES satellite systems to monitor not only weather systems on Earth, but other planetary conditions like wildfires, vegetation growth, soil moisture, Sahara Dust transport, snowpack, etc.

There’s a lot of information about GOES satellites, but the “baseline info” is that GOES 16 monitors the eastern half of the US (though it can also provide a “full disk” of the Earth where it is stationed).

GOES 17 will monitor the western half of the US (it went into space on March 1, 2018, but it is currently going through calibrations to make sure it is giving back accurate information, so it is currently considered “preliminary and non-operational”. This is the same process that GOES 16 went through between November 2016 and December 2017).

When you watch the weather forecast on WHNT News 19, the majority of the satellite imagery comes from GOES 16. It gives us a high resolution view of the storm systems on earth, and the imagery is updated every 1 to 5 minutes. This is a major upgrade to the previous GOES East satellite (GOES-13 to be exact), which would give an image every 25 minutes.

As mentioned before, this article barely touches on the background and history of the GOES satellite systems. For more information, feel free to peruse NASA’s GOES website.  NOAA also releases information about the GOES satellites on its website (click here to be directed to that page).

For the latest California wildfire imagery, visit the GOES website, or search the terms #goes16 and #goes17 on Twitter.