GOES-S will be positioned where it can observe most of the Western Hemisphere, from the west coast of Africa to New Zealand. This includes Alaska, Hawaii and the northeastern Pacific, where many weather systems that affect the continental U.S. form.
“The GOES-S satellite will join GOES-16 and NOAA-20 as NOAA continues to upgrade its satellite fleet,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross earlier this week. “The latest GOES addition will provide further insight and unrivaled accuracy into severe weather systems and wildfires in the western United States.”
GOES stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite, and the GOES-S is the latest in a series of GOES satellites that were first launched in 1975. Geostationary means that GOES-S will orbit with the Earth, keeping pace with the planet’s spin.
GOES-S will scan the Earth five times faster and with four times the resolution of current satellites. Its 16 camera channels are triple the number of the satellite it is replacing.
“GOES-S will provide high-resolution imagery of the western U.S. and eastern Pacific completing our satellite coverage to further improve weather forecasts across the entire country,” said Louis Uccellini, director of NOAA’s National Weather Service.
Lockhead Martin designed and built the 6,280-pound spacecraft that will orbit 22,500 miles above the Earth. The behemoth will be carried into space by a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, which has a main engine and four beefy solid rocket boosters.
A calendrical quirk of the universe is uniting a super moon, blue moon and total lunar eclipse this week — a rare assembly that hasn’t happened over the continental U.S. since 1866.
Adding to the cosmic indulgence in Wednesday’s pre-dawn sky is the moon will be near perigee, when the Earth’s only natural satellite is closest in its orbit and may appear slightly brighter and bigger, thus earning it the moniker “super moon.”
A blue moon is popularly defined as the second full moon in a month, which is an event that happens about every 2.7 years on average.
Even for austere astronomers, who frown on routine celestial events getting underserved hype, this triple lunar treat is an affair of note.
“It’s an astronomical trifecta,” said Kelly Beatty, a senior editor at Sky & Telescope magazine. “Situations like this that cause people to go out and be curious are a good thing, but you don’t want to oversell it so people are thinking they are going to see Star Wars.”
What is being touted across social media is a “super blue blood moon.” A total lunar eclipse is sometimes referred to as a blood moon because it can take on a red hue as the light from the sun passes through Earth’s atmosphere.
“This uses up all the superlatives; super moon, blue moon, lunar eclipse. What else is there?” said Florida Atlantic University astronomy professor Eric Vandernoot. “I don’t like the term blood moon, because it’s never blood red, it’s more peachy, and looks like a big peach in the sky.”
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V 411 rocket is scheduled for liftoff tonight after a technical problem forced the mission to be scrubbed Thursday.
Tonight’s 40-minute launch window opens at 7:48 p.m. from Space Launch Complex-41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The rocket is carrying a Space Based Infrared System satellite into geosynchronous orbit to provide “persistent infrared surveillance.”
The 45th Weather Squadron said the biggest concerns for tonight’s launch are a possible build up of cumulus clouds. But forecasters said the weather is 90 percent favorable for a launch.
Partly cloudy skies are forecast for South Florida tonight, giving residents a chance to see the rocket liftoff.
Check the ULA website for updated information on the launch or follow it on Twitter.
#AtlasV#SBIRS GEO Flight 4 mission was scrubbed today due to a ground issue associated with the booster liquid oxygen system. Launch is planned for Friday, Jan. 19. The forecast shows a 90% chance of favorable weather for launch. The launch time is 7:48 p.m. ET. pic.twitter.com/BWbg6iJJjM
With core technologies the size of a loaf of bread and weighing just 64 pounds each, the innovative Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System will belt the Earth between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn to monitor hurricane hot spots.
The convoy of mini-satellites uses GPS to measure wind speeds at the warm surface core of tropical cyclones — where ocean meets air. It’s a region shrouded from even the most advanced radar technologies by rain drops, but believed to be critical in predicting cyclone intensity, girth and potential storm surge.
And unlike the 6,280-pound behemoth GOES-R weather spacecraft that was successfully launched Nov. 19 from the Cape, the minis will spread out around the globe providing full-time coverage of all the tropics all the time.
“This isn’t the first set of micro-satellites, but this is the vanguard of new satellites, it’s the beginning,” said Christine Bonniksen, NASA’s program executive for the system, dubbed CYGNSS. “These smaller satellites, with all the advances in technology, are becoming much more capable and can provide more frequent readings.”
The satellites are being carried on a Pegasus rocket which is air-launched, released from a carrier aircraft at about 40,000 feet.
The project is the first space-based system selected for funding by NASA’s Earth Venture Program, which focuses on lower-cost, science-driven missions that can be rapidly developed.
About $155 million was awarded for CYGNSS, which includes $102 million to principal investigator Chris Ruf, a professor in the University of Michigan’s Department of Climate and Space Sciences, and $53 million for the Pegasus rocket. Because the satellites are so light, they can all launch on one rocket.
“This has not been done before on a satellite,” said Chris Landsea, science and operations officer at the National Hurricane Center. “It’s experimental and very intriguing with the promise that it may help us quite a bit.”
While forecasting the path of a hurricane has improved 50 percent over the past 15 years, forecasting storm intensity has lagged.
James Franklin, chief of the National Hurricane Center’s hurricane specialist unit, said the error rates for intensity were basically flat between 1990 and 2010. They’ve since fallen, and Franklin said there appears to have been about a 20 percent improvement in intensity errors the past 5 to 7 years.
Still, October’s Hurricane Matthew caught forecasters off guard when it intensified by 80 mph in 24 hours to become a dangerous Category 5 hurricane with 160 mph winds.
Part of the challenge in forecasting intensity is penetrating the hurricane eyewall to gather information about a storm’s inner core and the critical interactions happening in a slice of atmosphere just above the surface of the sea where the strongest winds are found.
Frank Marsik, an associate research scientist with University of Michigan’s Department of Climate and Space Sciences, said wind speeds are currently measured by satellites with radar scatterometers that emit microwave pulses toward the ocean’s surface and measure the subsequent backscattered signals.
The idea is a calm ocean will reflect very little microwave emissions back to the satellite, while wind-whipped waves will reflect more, helping forecasters determine wind strength.
But the signals break apart in the intense rainfall typically found at the eye of a hurricane.
CYGNSS will use already available GPS signals from existing satellites that are transmitted all day all over the globe and at a lower frequency than the scatterometers.
“As a result, the GPS signals can penetrate through the intense tropical rainfall associated with a hurricane eyewall, allowing the CYGNSS team to probe the inner core of hurricanes for the first time,” Marsik said. “This is critical, as improved forecasts of hurricane intensity (wind speed) will also lead to improvements in the forecast of the storm surge associated with land-falling hurricanes.”
Update 11 p.m.: Hurricane Hemine was nearing landfall, the National Hurricane Center said Thursday night. The storm was about 40 miles east of Apalachicola with sustained winds of 80 mph.
Hermine gained strength Thursday evening as it roared toward Florida’s Gulf Coast, churning up pounding surf that battered docks and boathouses as people braced for the first direct hit on the state from a hurricane in over a decade.
The storm’s landfall was expected late Thursday or early Friday in the Big Bend area — the mostly rural and lightly populated corner where the Florida peninsula meets the Panhandle — then drop back down to a tropical storm and push into Georgia, the Carolinas and up the East Coast with the potential for drenching rain and deadly flooding.
Update 9:30 p.m.: With Hurricane Hermine targeting just east of Apalachicola for a late-night or early-morning landfall, streets in this historic oyster city were largely deserted by nightfall.
Winds gusted to over 40 mph and squally, heavy rain pelted Apalachicola through most of the evening. But hurricane-force winds still seemed hours away.
By 9 p.m., a couple of power outages darkened some neighborhoods.
Still, water rose at a bayfront park to bring boats, rocking at anchor, almost to ground level. On the city’s waterfront, the aptly named Water Street was marred by wide swaths of standing water, forcing TV crews — about the only people out on the street– to navigate their way to live shots.
Palm fronds and even a few campaign signs leftover from Tuesday’s primary were scattered in some front yards. But a few restaurants continued to serve a scattering of customers in downtown restaurants, although every other shop in the tourist and fishing town had been shuttered for most of the day.
Update 9 p.m.: Conditions are rapidly deteriorating along the Big Bend coast as Hurricane Hermine approaches, the National Weather Service’s office in Tallahassee reports.
Winds have started to increase near Tallahassee and there are reports of power outages, the weather service said. Tornadoes are possible from the bands Hermine , forecasters say. The storm was about 40 miles southeast of Apalachicola with sustained winds of 80 mph, the National Hurricane Center said in its 9 p.m. update.
Update 8 p.m.: Hurricane Hermine continues to gain strength as the storm moves closer making landfall.
As of 8 p.m., Hermine had sustained winds of 80 mph, the National Hurricane Center said. The storm was 45 miles south-southeast of Apalachicola moving north-northeast at 14 mph. Hermine is forecast to make landfall late tonight or early Friday.
Hurricane-force winds extend outward to 45 miles from the center, and tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 185 miles.
The minimum central pressure reported by the Hurricane Hunter aircraft is 983 mb, the hurricane center said.
Update 5 p.m.: Hurricane Hermine is becoming better organized and is forecast to have 80 mph winds at landfall later tonight or early tomorrow morning.
National Hurricane Center forecasters cautioned that Hermine was an asymmetrical storm, with a “large extent of dangerous winds, life-threatening storm surge, and flooding rains, well to the east and southeast of the path of the center.”
As of 5 p.m., Hermine was 85 miles south of Apalachicola moving north-northeast at 14 mph. It’s minimum central pressure was 988 mb.
Across Florida’s Big Bend, many residents and business owners took Hurricane Hermine in stride – but also conceded they were worried, as sheets of rain intensified and the wind picked up toward evening Thursday.
Some reflected on the last time the region was socked by a storm. It was Hurricane Dennis in 2005, which caused widespread destruction when high winds propelled gulf water miles inland, across marshy lowlands and into homes and stores.
“What are you going to do? You’ve just got to ride it out and hope it goes a little further east of here,” said Carson Ulrich, owner of a gas station and store in Lanark, on U.S. 98, the coastal highway that hugs the Gulf of Mexico.
“The previous owner of this place got wiped out by that storm in 2005. No insurance. That’s how we wound up buying it,” Ulrich said.
He eyed the rising water at a boat ramp just in back of his store. Ulrich said he was certain he’d be flooded by the time he returns to work Friday.
I’ll put some sand bags at the front door. But around here, we’ve all seen this before,” he added.
In nearby Carrabelle, Ron Gempel, 73, grew up in West Palm Beach, but has owned a sandwich shop in the fishing town for the past dozen years. On Thursday, he and some helpers were covering the shop’s front windows with plywood.
Next door, the town’s only hardware store had already closed and sandbagged its front door.
“You’d think they could be open and selling stuff today,” Gempel said. “But it’s an old-time family business here. They know when it’s time to get out of the way of a storm.”
Gempel said there was little anyone could do but prepare, and cleanup when Hermine moved on.
“Anyone who chooses to live here knows the score,” Gempel said. “I can go kayaking right down the street some days. Other days, you’ve got a hurricane to deal with.”
With Labor Day weekend approaching, many in the area mourned the loss of business from tourists. Evacuations had already been ordered on St. George Island, a popular vacation spot, and many visitors weren’t sticking around to stop in neighboring towns, where the faltering fishing industry has given way to bike rental shops, latte bars and even customized dog biscuit emporiums.
Don Ward, who recently opened Slice of Apalachicola, stared out the broad windows of his restaurant at the rain pelting down on a street empty of most visitors other than TV news crews.
“We’re not going to close tonight,” Ward said. “What else would I be doing? Everybody still needs pizza.”
Update 3 p.m.: The national hurricane center says Hermine has gained hurricane strength with near 75 mph winds.
In a special statement issued at 2:55 p.m., forecasters said data from an Air Force Hurricane Hunter indicate that the storm has strengthened and will likely make landfall as a Category 1 hurricane late tonight or early Friday morning.
Update 1:30 p.m.: Tropical Storm Hermine has increased its wind speeds to 70 mph as it travels toward the Florida Gulf Coast at 14 mph.
A special statement issued by the National Hurricane Center says tropical storm warnings have been extended southward along the west coast of Florida to Engelwood, including the Tampa and St. Petersburg area.
Update 12:15 p.m.: Florida Gov. Rick Scott asked residents in the Big Bend area of the state to finish storm preparations ahead of Tropical Storm Hermine and foretold a grim night of storm surge up to 8 feet, winds of 70-75 mph, downed power lines and street flooding.
“This is life threatening,” Scott said. “It will impact us from Tampa Bay to Pensacola.”
Tropical storm force winds extend out to 185 miles.
Scott said fringes of the storm will begin hitting the coast this afternoon with the landfall occurring after midnight.
But areas are already feeling the impacts. In Pensacola Beach, which out of the cone of uncertainty, the Fort Pickens campground was evacuated when a new moon high tide and Hermine swell flooded roads.
“A lot of people have no experience with tropical systems,” Elsner said. “The National Weather Service in Tallahassee said to prepare for two days without power. I would imagine that’s worse case scenario.”
Forecasters are concerned about high tides and storm surge for this storm as the Gulf Coast of Florida has a shallow run up to the coast.
In Wakulla County, an evacuation of low lying coastal homes was issued this morning. A state of emergency has been declared in 51 Florida counties as the storm approaches, but this morning’s high tide is already flooding some Gulf Coast roads, even ones not in Hermine’s direct path.
Fort Pickens Road, which runs the extent of Pensacola Beach is already seeing some overrun as the tide comes in. Pensacola is not in the storm’s path or the cone of uncertainty, but a new moon is increasing tides all along the Panhandle.
As of the 5 a.m. forecast from the National Hurricane Center, Hermine had 65 mph winds and was about 250 miles south-southwest of Apalachicola moving north-northeast at 12 mph. The minimum central pressure was 996 mb.
A hurricane warning is in effect for Suwannee River to Mexico Beach. A hurricane watch is in effect for Anclote River to Suwannee River and west of Mexico Beach to Destin.
Hermine’s tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 140 miles to the east of center and should start hitting the coast this afternoon.
Hurricane conditions are expected to reach the coast within the warning area beginning tonight.
Preparations should be finished now before the wind and rain makes it to difficult to drive or secure your home.
There are four eclipses in 2016. The first was March 9 and was visible in Indonesia and parts of the Pacific Ocean. March 23rd marked a penumbral lunar eclipse.
Then there’s this week’s annular solar eclipse and another penumbral lunar eclipse Sept. 16.
“The year’s fourth and final eclipse is another barely-there circumstance during which the Moon again slides through Earth’s vague outer shadow,” writes Kelly Beatty of Sky and Telescope magazine. “Dusky shading on the lunar disk’s northern half should be easy to spot when the eclipse reaches its maximum at 18:54 UT.”
The real show will be Aug. 21, 2017 when the first total solar eclipse visible in North America in nearly 40 years will occur.
That’s because Jupiter’s weighty gravitational pull is influencing this year’s Perseids, tugging at the space particles responsible for the shower so that their orbits moved closer to Earth. So while an average Perseid meteor shower will rain down 60 to 90 meteors per hour, there may be double that amount this year.
“This is one I would watch this year,” said Bill Cooke, lead for NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office in Huntsville, Ala.
The Perseid meteor shower is considered runner-up on the grandness scale only to the Geminid meteor shower in December.
But Cooke said the Perseids are special because they are known for sending showy fireballs streaking through the sky with long trains that may linger for several seconds. Fireballs are brighter than the planet Venus, and a Perseid fireball can light up the ground like a brief spotlight.
“They can produce some very spectacular meteors,” Cooke said about the Perseids. “Some people say they have a yellow color.”
While the Perseid shower radiates from the bold constellation of monster-slayer and mythical Greek hero Perseus, the meteors are actually debris from the comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. The comet orbits the sun in a large cigar-shaped motion, with Earth passing through the comet rubble every year in mid-August.
The comet sheds debris that can range from the size of a pin head to a half-dollar, Cooke said. They slam into Earth’s atmosphere at 132,000 mph.
“With a little luck you’ll see a ‘shooting star’ every minute or so on average,” said Alan MacRobert, senior editor of Sky & Telescope magazine.
Sam Storch, a retired astronomy professor and member of the Astronomical Society of the Palm Beaches, said people shouldn’t be discouraged if they walk out there door and don’t see a meteor right away.
He suggests finding a dark spot away from light pollution and with no obstructions such as tall buildings. He suggests finding a dark spot away from light pollution and with no obstructions such as tall buildings. The moon this year will be waxing gibbous, so you won’t have the light of the full moon to interfere with seeing a meteor.
“The thing about the Perseids, they are reliable,” Storch said. “This is one of the ones to see.”
Whether South Florida’s skies will cooperate is another thing. The National Weather Service in Miami is giving Palm Beach County a 40 percent chance of showers Thursday, dropping to 30 percent Friday morning.
If Mother Nature does obscure South Florida’s view of the Perseids, at least two groups are planning live broadcasts of the show.
NASA is planning a webcast beginning at 10 p.m. today on its UStream channel. Slooh.com’s broadcast will be live beginning at 8 p.m.
While the Delta Aqaurid display is not as robust as some, the meteorites move lazily through the sky giving stargazers a better chance at catching a glimpse. Because of the angle at which Delta Aquarids enter the Earth’s atmosphere, they tend to leave long glowing trails of ionized gas that can last one to two seconds.
“These are slow moving. They are more zoop than zip,” said Alan MacRobert, senior editor of Sky and Telescope magazine. “Pretty much look wherever the sky is darkest and away from the moon.”
A high pressure system circling over Florida should keep skies mostly cloud free. The National Weather Service is forecasting sky cover of between 19 percent and 30 percent depending on time of day and just a 15 percent chance of rain. MacRobert said the best time to see the meteors is midnight to dawn when the Earth is facing forward in its orbit.
“That’s when you will get the meteors head on, like raindrops on a windshield,” he said.
If South Florida’s show is shrouded by clouds, the website Slooh is hosting a special broadcast beginning at 8 p.m. that will have live feeds from the Canary Islands, Connecticut and Canada.
The source of the Delta Aquarids remains a mystery, although some astronomers believe the shower occurs when the Earth passes through the broken up chunks of rock and dust from Comet 96/P Macholz. The comet was discovered by an amateur astronomer in 1986.
The meteorites appear to radiate from their namesake star Delta Aquarii, which is in the constellation Aquarius, the water carrier.
While this meteor shower favors the Southern Hemisphere, MacRobert said South Florida has a low enough latitude for good viewing as long as a darkened sky free of heavy light pollution can be found.
“Don’t get your hopes up too much, and be patient,” MacRobert said. “Just relax and have fun gazing into the stars.”