New NOAA Satellite Takes Picture of Earth 1 Million Miles Away

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s newest satellite has reached orbit and it serves a purpose different from the typical weather satellite.

Launched back in February, the Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR, will be used primarily for solar wind measurements. The satellite will also send back pictures of earth on a frequent basis.

Satellite pictures shown in First Alert weather forecasts are taken by different satellites that are part of the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite system, known simply as GOES. These satellites orbit the earth 22,500 miles above the ground and provide resolution up to one kilometer.

Unlike the GOES weather satellites, DSCOVR is much farther away. It sits a whopping one million miles away from the surface of the earth at Lagrangian point one, also called L1.

Lagrangian point one is where the gravitational pull of the sun and earth balances with the centripetal force, thereby allowing the satellite in L1 orbit to remain between the sun and earth at all times.

NOAA’s space weather alerts and forecasts will benefit from having instrumentation at Lagrangian point one because it’s an ideal spot to track the solar wind.

So, how does the solar wind impact people? It’s the only way to provide 15 to 60 minutes of warning before a geomagnetic storm.
In this day and age when everybody and everything relies on technology, notification of an impending geomagnetic storm is crucial. These storms can take out major public infrastructure systems, including power grids, communications equipment and GPS.

While it would be an inconvenience to lose GPS on a family trip, national security and economic stability would also be at risk should a geomagnetic storm take out power grids and GPS.

In addition to taking solar wind observations, the satellite also carries other neat tools. NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) is used to take color pictures of the earth. Since the satellite is always between the sun and earth, the pictures will always be of the side of the planet in daylight.

The very first picture taken by EPIC was back on July 6, 2015.

By this September, images of earth from one million miles away will be publicly available in near real time. Photos will be published on a NASA webpage 12 to 36 hours after they are taken.

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