The Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) on the next generation of GOES satellites will detect the very rapid and transient bursts of light produced by lightning at near-infrared wavelengths. This image was taken from the International Space Station and shows the Aurora Australis and lightning.
Click image for larger view.
With this hemisphere-scale view, scientists will gather an unprecedented amount of data on how lightning varies from place to place, year to year, and even decade to decade. Existing lightning sensors are either on the ground — which limits their geographic range — or on satellites that orbit much closer to Earth. These satellites circle the Earth every 90 minutes or so, quickly passing over any one area, which can leave some awkward gaps in the data.
Goodman explains: “Low-Earth orbit satellites observe a location such as Florida for only a minute at a time. Many of these storms occur in the late afternoon, and if the satellite's not overhead at that time, you're going to miss it.”
GLM, on the other hand, won't miss a thing. Indeed, in just two weeks of observations, GLM is expected gather more data than NASA's two low-Earth orbiting research sensors did in 10+ years.
The new data will have many uses beyond understanding climate change. For example, wherever lightning flashes are abundant, scientists can warn aircraft pilots of strong turbulence. The data may also offer new insights into the evolution of storms and prompt improvements in severe weather forecasting.
(FLASH!) Did you miss another one? The time has come for GLM.
Want to know how to build a weather satellite? Check the “how to” booklet at scijinks.gov/weather/technology/build_satellite.
This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.