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New NASA satellite sheds light on worldwide precipitation

5:42 PM, Nov 15, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- A new satellite called "global precipitation measurement", or GPM, is leaving NASA Goddard this weekend and heading for Japan. 

Building the satellite was a joint effort between the two countries, and the satellite will make it easier to predict the weather all around the world. 

The GPM is the biggest satellite ever built at NASA Goddard, but it's also the most advanced satellite for measuring precipitation. It can see differences in precipitation over a 5 kilometer radius, or just about 3 miles. And it can see all kinds of precipitation- rain, snow and ice- covering about 90% of the Earth's land and ocean. It is a huge improvement over the 8 precipitation satellites that currently orbit Earth, including our own precipitation satellite, TRMM, which can only measure rain over tropical regions. 

Gail Jackson, a NASA Deputy Project Scientist, says "Now we have this (satellite), which is going to measure at higher latitudes, all the way into Canada, and when we put it together with our international satellite network, we'll be able to have the global measurements". 

The GPM was assembled and tested here at Goddard. Japan provided the radar equipment, and the GPM will launch from an island off Japan's coast early next year. 

One of the biggest improvements with the GPM satellite is that it has an additional radar, which measures smaller precipitation, like small snow crystals and light rain. Working together, the radars will provide an additional dimension to precipitation measurements. In order to pull this off, the satellite has to fly pretty close to earth, about 250 miles. Art Azarbarzin, the NASA Project Manager for the GPM, says, "That's the same (height of) orbit as the space station, that's how close we are. That's why our data is more accurate, we look at the data a lot closer. 

The result?

The best global rainfall, snowfall and ice data we've ever had around the world. And that will give us better forecasts for everything from floods and mudslides, to blizzards and hurricanes. And everything in between. Once the GPM satellite in launched and in orbit, it will send precipitation measurements back to Earth every 3 hours. NASA scientists say that they'll be able to learn more about wildfires, droughts, and climate change with all the new data. 

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