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When you think of a weather satellite, you probably think of something parked high up in space keeping watch over clouds on the ground.
You wouldn’t be wrong. That’s exactly what most weather satellites do.
But some satellites also keep an eye on a very different kind of weather—space weather!
Space weather is caused by the sun. Our sun is constantly sending particles and energy across the planets of our solar system.
The Sun isn’t only a burning ball of immensely hot gas. It’s a burning ball of immensely hot gas with a temper!
It has been known to let off large bursts of energy called solar flares.
And sometimes it lets off something even bigger—a coronal mass ejection.
Both can hurl particles toward Earth at nearly the speed of light.
These particles can damage satellites, power lines, and radio communications. And if there were any astronauts floating around the International Space Station, they would be in trouble, too.
Not to worry! While a new group of satellites—called the GOES-R series—will be busy watching Earth weather, they will also be watching their back, keeping a close eye on the space weather.
These satellites will improve our ability to look for the first sign of a solar flare or coronal mass ejection, and they will monitor the space around Earth for an increase in high-energy particles from the sun.
With an early warning from satellites like the GOES-R series, power companies, satellite operators, and even astronauts will have enough time to adapt to any troubling space weather headed our way.