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How do weather satellites work?

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Quick Answer

There are two types of weather satellites: polar-orbiting and geostationary; each is capable of observing the different frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum with help from scanning radiometers. Visible light is utilized by satellites to produce high-resolution images of the atmosphere, detailing cloud coverage, tropical storms, air pollution and forest fires. Infrared data is recorded and transmitted to a processing station, creating images detailing temperature changes, water vapor and cloud altitude.

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Full Answer

Polar-orbiting satellites all follow a North-South pathway in sun-synchronous orbits, allowing for consistent lighting conditions, which is shown through high-resolution images at a distance of 520 miles from sea level. These satellites are capable of imaging all points of the Earth daily while traveling on different pathways, providing a full data set of global information at a broad scale. These are the only satellites that are a capable of capturing the Earth in its entirety.

Geostationary satellites orbit around the equator at a distance of more than 22,000 miles, moving through space at the same rate as the Earth's rotation, contributing to the illusory effect that they are stationary above the Earth. These satellites provide constant dedication to single hemispheres and are especially useful at helping to better understand patterns of weather. These satellites provide much of the atmospheric data that meteorologists use in order to predict storms.

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