Meterological Satellite Imaging


Imaging the World's weather from space began with the launch of Tiros-1 by the American space agency, NASA, on 1 April 1960. This was the first "remote imaging" satellite which could be considered sucessful and transmitted images of the Earth & it's weather for 78 days. The image shown here is the very first one transmitted by the spacecraft to Earth. (Photo courtesy of NASA)


Tiros-1 Image courtesy NASA

Just 19 inches tall by 42 inches in diameter (0.48 by 1.1 metres) Tiros, which stands for Television Infra Red Observation Satellite, transmitted nearly 23,000 images during it's 78 day life.

In the following few months, a further 9 identical satellites were launched. In spite of their name, these early satellites only imaged the Earth's weather during daylight hours as they actually lacked Infrared capability. This changed some 6 months after the first flight however.


A replica of the Tiros-1

Satellite courtesy NASA

Now, less than 60 years later, we take for granted the images that originate from satellites dedicated to imaging the Earth's weather. Currently there are fundamentally two very different types of satellite; those known as "polar orbiters" which, like the first Tiros satellites, orbit the earth at an altitude of around 530 miles and, as the name implies, pass over the North and South poles as they orbit, constantly imaging the weather systems of the ground and upper atmosphere below as they're flying over.

The newer, and very different satellite is described as "geostationary". In this case the satellite is launched into a "left to right" type of orbit around the equator, rather than a "north to south" one over the poles. It also travels at a particular speed - exactly the same speed as that which the earth rotates at - which allows it to "keep up" with one place on the Earth's surface. So if you were to look up and see the satellite (you'd need extremely good eyes - these are at an altitude of around 22,236 miles or 35,786km...) it would be constantly visibly to you and appear to be standing still - "geostationary" - in the sky.


The latest European Geostationary satellite, Meteosat-11 being

prepared for launch in 2015. Image © Eumetsat 2015

Similarly, if you were onboard a geostationary satellite, you would be able to look constantly at the one part of the Earth's surface - as the "cameras", or rather suite of sensors onboard do.

Over the decades there has been a significant improvement in the capabilities of the satellites. Sophisticated instruments now scan the Earth's surface and are capable of providing Meteorologist and Scientists with vast amounts of valuable data which emables them to not only provide much more detailed and reliable weather information and forecasts but also allows the detailed monitoring of, for example, the Ozone layer and many other factors which affect our weather and climate.

The incredible thing is that large amounts of this data is available to us all, providing you know how to receive and process it.

To see how I receive and process data from weather satellites, hover over the "Weather Satellites" button above and select "Receiving the Data"..