The video above shows a detailed view of lightning from space, courtesy of a new U.S. weather satellite located roughly 22,000 miles (35,000 kilometers) overhead.
Released this week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the video shows a line of storms quickly intensifying over the U.S. Plains.
The scene was captured May 9 by NOAA's new GOES-17 weather satellite, which was launched in March. Along with GOES-16, it's one of two NOAA satellites equipped with the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM), a powerful tool that can capture 500 images per second, giving forecasters unprecedented data on storm formation and intensity. Since rapid surges of lightning may indicate a strengthening storm — and thus foreshadow severe weather — data from GLM "will serve an essential role in helping to keep American lives and property safe," according to NOAA.
An artist's rendering of the GOES-R series of next-generation weather satellites. (Image: NOAA)
Unfortunately, GOES-17 itself may now be in a life-or-death situation. The satellite is still in a six-month testing period, but shortly after releasing the video above, NOAA announced that GOES-17 is experiencing a serious mechanical problem.
A key cooling system isn't working in the satellite's main imaging instrument, the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI). The ABI views the Earth in 16 spectral bands, including several infrared and near-infrared bands that require extremely cold conditions, so its cooling system is "integral" to the satellite, NOAA explains.
"We're treating this very seriously," Joe Pica of NOAA's National Weather Service tells Science Magazine. "We're trying to understand the anomaly and trying to find ways to start the engines of the cooling system to function properly."
If NOAA can't revive the ABI's cooling system, the agency says it will consider "alternative concepts and modes" to maximize the instrument's utility. This setback won't have an immediate impact on weather forecasting, since GOES-17 was being tested and NOAA's active satellites remain operational, but it's a big blow nonetheless. GOES-17 is the second of four satellites in an $11 billion upgrade to the country's geostationary weather satellites, with the next launch slated for 2020.