June 6, 2006
Erica Hupp/Dwayne Brown
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colo.
FIRST IMAGES FROM NASA’S CLOUDSAT HAVE SCIENTISTS SKY HIGH
The first images from NASA’s new CloudSat satellite are already
revealing never-before-seen 3-D details about clouds.
Mission managers tested the flight and ground system performance of
the satellite’s Cloud-Profiling Radar in late May, and found it to be
working perfectly. The satellite’s first images may be viewed at:
“CloudSat’s radar performed flawlessly, and although the data are
still very preliminary, it provided breathtaking new views of the
weather on our planet,” said Graeme Stephens, CloudSat principal
investigator and a professor at Colorado State University, Fort
Collins, Colo. "All major cloud system types were observed, and the
radar demonstrated its ability to penetrate through almost all but
the heaviest rainfall.
“We have now begun continuous radar operations, and we look forward to
releasing our first validated data to the science community within
nine months, hopefully sooner,” Stephens said.
Just 30 seconds after radar activation, CloudSat obtained its first
image - a slice of the atmosphere from the top to the surface of a
warm storm front over the North Sea in the North Atlantic approaching
Greenland. Unlike other satellite observations, the CloudSat radar
image shows the storm’s clouds and precipitation simultaneously. The
front’s warm air can be seen rising over colder air, with
The remaining orbits of the test recorded unique observations of other
weather types on a scale never seen before. The radar obtained
first-time observations of clouds and snow storms over the Antarctic.
Until now, clouds have been hard to observe in polar regions using
satellite remote sensing, particularly during the polar night season.
The CloudSat observations also provided new views of sloping, frontal
clouds and thunderstorms over Africa, both as individual storms and
as part of larger tropical storm systems.
“We’re seeing the atmosphere as we’ve never seen it before,” said
Deborah Vane, CloudSat deputy principal investigator at NASA’s Jet
Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif. “We’re no longer
looking at clouds like images on a flat piece of paper, but instead
we’re peering into the clouds and seeing their layered complexity.”
The first-ever millimeter wavelength radar, CloudSat’s Cloud-Profiling
Radar is more than 1,000 times more sensitive than typical weather
radar. It can observe clouds and precipitation in a way never before
possible, distinguishing between cloud particles and precipitation.
Its measurements are expected to offer new insights into how fresh
water is created from water vapor and how much of this water falls to
the surface as rain and snow.
CloudSat was launched April 28 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.,
along with NASA’s Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder
Satellite Observations satellite. Both satellites will orbit 438
miles above Earth aboard NASA’s “A-Train” constellation of five Earth
Observing System satellites. The A-Train satellites will work
together to provide new insights into the global distribution and
evolution of clouds to improve weather forecasting and climate
CloudSat is managed by JPL, which developed the radar instrument with
hardware contributions from the Canadian Space Agency. Colorado State
University provides scientific leadership and science data processing
and distribution. Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., Boulder,
Colo., designed and built the spacecraft. The U.S. Air Force and U.S.
Department of Energy contributed resources. U.S. and international
universities and research centers support the mission science team.
For more information on CloudSat on the Web, visit: