After Outage, Critical Weather Satellite Back Online

June 10, 2013

One of NOAA's most important weather satellites returned to normal service last week, nearly a month after a micrometeroid struck the satellite and knocked it slightly off its path in orbit around the Earth.

Tests showed the GOES-13 satellite likely took a hit in the arm of its solar array panel on May 22, which shifted the satellite off its "delicate, geostationary balance" over the eastern United States, NOAA reported in a press release June 6.

The impact forced the satellite to shut down immediately, which alerted NOAA engineers to put the GOES-13 into safe mode while they studied what went wrong. The collision was determined not to have damaged the satellite's instruments or the satellite itself.

During normal operations, the GOES-13 satellite remains parked over the eastern U.S., where it monitors the East Coast and the tropical Atlantic. The data it collects is used in models for hurricanes and tropical storms, as well as models for day-to-day weather forecasting, explained Mark Elliot, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel.


GOES-13 Satellite artist's rendering.

"Many of the images shown on TV are images from GOES-13 and we rely on this to tell the weather story," he added. "So real time views and forecasts both come from this satellite data."

As NOAA explains on its website, the GOES satellite system is designed with backups for situations like this. "At all times, NOAA operates two GOES spacecraft -one in the East and the other in the West- both hovering 22,300 miles above the equator," its press release notes. "NOAA always keeps an additional GOES in orbital storage mode ready to step in if one of the active satellites experiences trouble."

While GOES-13 was shut down, NOAA configured two of its other GOES satellites (GOES-14 and GOES-15, which is parked over the western U.S.) to provide backup coverage for the eastern U.S. and part of the Atlantic Ocean.

The micrometeroid impact was a first for a NOAA weather satellite but hardly a first for U.S. space operations, Elliott said. The Mars Orbiter Mirrored Surface has been pelted by micrometeors in the past, and the International Space Station is protected by micrometeor shields, even for its astronauts on spacewalks.

"So these are known issues," he added. "That said, there is no clear answer for how many micrometeors may be out there, or if/when this may happen again."

MORE: Satellites See More Than Clouds

Plankton Bloom in an Ocean Eddy

Plankton Bloom in an Ocean Eddy


This satellite image shows an ocean eddy (large mass of water spinning in a whirlpool pattern) tinted blue from tiny plant-like organisms called plankton. The plankton grow as a result of the eddy stirring up nutrients from the deep to the surface. This image was taken on December 26, 2011 around 500 miles south of South Africa.

  • Plankton Bloom in an Ocean Eddy
  • Ship Tracks
  • Dust Storm
  • River Sediment in Pacific Ocean
  • River Flooding
  • Wildfire Smoke
  • Burn Scars
  • River Valley Fog
  • Fall Foliage
  • Volcanic Ash
  • Dune Formations
  • Icebergs
  • Lake Covered by Ice
  • Glaciers
  • Snow Cover
  • Tornado Damage Scar
  • Coral Reefs
  • Solar Farm

Featured Blogs

Top 10 Weather Videos of 2014

By Dr. Jeff Masters
December 26, 2014

The year 2014 had many spectacular extreme weather events caught on video; the most remarkable were of flash flooding in Serbia and a tornado in Russia. Two artistic videos that were favorites of mine included beautiful time-lapse pieces set to music taken of monsoon thunderstorms in Arizona and the sunset/aurora on top of Mt. Washington, New Hampshire. Here, then, are my choices for 2014's top 10 weather videos:

November 2014 Global Weather Extremes Summary

By Christopher C. Burt
December 18, 2014

November was globally the 7th warmest such on record according to NOAA and 8th according to NASA (see Jeff Master’s blog for more about this). It was a cold month in the U.S. with some phenomenal lake-effect snowstorms. A powerful storm, dubbed a ‘Medicane’ formed in the Mediterranean Sea. Deadly floods occurred in Morocco, Italy, and Switzerland. It was the warmest November on record for Australia, Italy, Austria and much of Southeast Asia.Below are some of the month’s highlights.

Live Blog: Tracking Hurricane Arthur as it Approaches North Carolina Coast

By Shaun Tanner
July 3, 2014

This is a live blog set up to provide the latest coverage on Hurricane Arthur as it threatens the North Carolina Coast. Check back often to see what the latest is with Arthur. The most recent updates are at the top.

Tropical Terminology

By Stu Ostro
June 30, 2014

Here is some basic, fundamental terminology related to tropical cyclones. Rather than a comprehensive and/or technical glossary, this represents the essence of the meaning & importance of some key, frequently used terms.

2013-14 - An Interesting Winter From A to Z

By Tom Niziol
May 15, 2014

It was a very interesting winter across a good part of the nation from the Rockies through the Plains to the Northeast. Let's break down the most significant winter storms on a month by month basis.

What the 5th IPCC Assessment Doesn't Include

By Angela Fritz
September 27, 2013

Melting permafrost has the potential to release an additional 1.5 trillion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, and could increase our global average temperature by 1.5°F in addition to our day-to-day human emissions. However, this effect is not included in the IPCC report issued Friday morning, which means the estimates of how Earth's climate will change are likely on the conservative side.