SciJinks It's all about weather!

GOES-R has launched!

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Weather Jigsaw Puzzles

Jig-saw puzzle pieces, scrambled up.

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The jig-saw puzzles pictures show some of the events that have a big impact on our everyday lives—like volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes, snow storms, fires, lightning, floods, even storms on the Sun. What these events all have in common is that the next group of GOES satellites will tell us much more about them, and sooner than we can find out now. For example, the new GOES-R (for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites, series R) satellites will provide earlier and more accurate location warnings of tornados. The first GOES-R launch is planned for 2016.

For almost 40 years, weather satellites stationed high above Earth’s equator have been sending us images and data on Earth’s atmosphere and solar activity (space weather). These images and data become even more valuable when they are processed by computers into data products that tell researchers and forecasters everything from the temperature of the ocean’s surface to the location and extent of forest fires. Put the event jig-saw puzzles together, and read about what the GOES-R series satellites will be able to tell us about them.

Or, look at the pictures and read the text without doing the puzzles.

Thumbnails of all jig-saw puzzles images.

Jig-saw Puzzle Pictures

Frosty trees

Frosty trees

GOES-R images will show how much of the land is covered with snow. Snow reflects back to space some of the sunlight that would normally warm Earth’s surface. Thus snow cover affects weather and climate. Snow information will also be used to predict the amount of water that will fill rivers or cause floods when it melts, and will help in managing water supplies for farms and cities.



When a volcano erupts, it can send very fine clouds of ash high into the sky, where jet planes fly. This ash is like tiny shards of broken glass. Although it is often invisible, it can severely damage the engines and other parts of planes. GOES-R will detect even thin volcanic ash plumes in the atmosphere, so that planes can avoid them.



Energetic particles from storms on the Sun can reach Earth’s environment in space. This bad “space weather” can disrupt power grids and communication and navigation systems, and it can hurt satellites and astronauts. GOES-R will have a telescope that observes the Sun for warning signs of severe solar storms. It will thus predict when bad space weather is heading toward Earth so steps can be taken to protect equipment and astronauts.

Flooding, seen from space

Colorful satellite image.

GOES-R will predict heavy rain and flooding. Data from GOES-R will be combined with data from other satellites to show “atmospheric rivers.” These are long, narrow filaments of moisture in the atmosphere that can transport as much water as the Amazon River! This data will help to predict heavy rain events.



GOES-R will give people more warning to prepare for tornadoes. It will detect the conditions in fair weather cumulus clouds that mean they are going to become threatening cumulonimbus clouds that could spawn tornadoes. Forecasters will use such predictions to warn people of a potential severe weather event long before any severe weather is reported.

Sea coral

Colorful sea coral.

GOES-R will monitor sea surface temperature. This information is important in monitoring and forecasting climate and weather. Ocean temperature data also helps in tracking sea turtles, assessing the health of coral reefs, and managing commercial fisheries.



GOES-R will have an instrument to detect lightning. This data will help severe weather forecasters identify rapidly growing thunderstorms and issue accurate and timely warnings of severe thunderstorms and tornados.


Satellite view of hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico.

GOES-R’s advanced instruments for imaging and observing will help in forecasting hurricanes. The data will help to more accurately predict where the hurricane is going and how intense it will become. Thus, the National Hurricane Center will be able to issue earlier warnings to the people in the hurricane’s likely path.

Forest fire

Forest fire.

GOES-R will be able to detect the heat from even small fires. The new satellite will be better at pinpointing the location of small fires and estimating the intensity and extent of large fires. GOES-R will help those responsible for monitoring air quality and controlling fires.

Rescue at sea

Helicopter rescue at sea.

GOES-R will be part of a world-wide Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking (SARSAT) system. Aircraft, boats, and individuals (such as hikers) carry emergency beacon transmitters, which they activate in an emergency. A satellite, such as GOES-R, receives the signal and relays it to ground stations, which quickly relay the message and location information. The nearest search and rescue team is dispatched to help the people in distress. SARSAT has helped in the rescue of thousands of people around the world.


Earth from space.

GOES-R will continuously make images and atmospheric measurements of Earth’s Western Hemisphere. It will detect and track hurricanes and severe weather. It will help the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) do its job in monitoring water and weather, climate, commerce, and the living environment.


Colorful aurora over snowy landscape.

Sometimes electrically charged particles from storms on the Sun enter Earth’s atmosphere near the North and South Poles. That’s when curtains of colorful Northern (or Southern) Lights may dance in the sky. But particles and radiation from solar storms can cause damage to satellites, electrical power utilities, and navigation systems. GOES-R will monitor Earth’s magnetic field from the satellite’s geostationary orbit ~22,300 miles above the equator. The information it collects is important for predicting and warning of this type of danger.