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Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites
A shot like this (of 2004's Typhoon Namtheun) was all part of the day's work for GOES 9. Image courtesy NASA and NOAA

The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) series of orbital spacecraft have played a vital role in monitoring Earth's weather and climate since NASA launched the first of the family on Oct. 16, 1975 [sources: NOAA OSO].

The system kicked into high gear with the launch of its second generation, the GOES I-M series, which took observation times of the Earth from 10 to 100 percent. Launched from 1994 to 2001 and since decommissioned, GOES 9-12 unraveled the mysteries of clouds and fog, ocean currents, storms and winds, and even snow melt. It did so by fusing sensor data from the visual and infrared bands with information from a global array of data collection stations, balloons and buoys. The current system, GOES N-P, packs improved versions of similar instruments and some new ones as well [sources: NOAA OSD; NOAA OSO].

Traditionally, at least two GOES satellites operate at a time, one over each coast of North America. Currently, GOES-13 is designated GOES-East and GOES-15 is labeled GOES-West. In addition, GOES 12 monitors South America. The next generation of craft, expected to launch in 2015, will add new gadgets, including a lightning mapper and two solar instruments to better monitor the sun's output of X-rays and extreme ultraviolet radiation [sources: GOES-R Program Office; NOAA OSO; NOAA OSO].

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