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NASA’s newest climate and weather satellite captures stunning ‘blue marble’

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When NASA launched the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project, or NPP, in October, it ushered in a new generation of climate and weather satellites. The school bus size spacecraft is now securely in polar orbit making 14 passes over the Earth each day.

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The five main instruments are critical to enhancing not only short term weather forecasting but also in aiding long term climate modeling. NASA has performing an initial checkout of the craft and its instruments, a process which will take several more weeks before it begins its regular science mission.

This week NASA released an astounding ‘blue marble’ image captured by its Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS). The image is a composite from multiple orbits of the spacecraft on January 4, 2012 showing much of North and Central America.

Also released this week are images taken using VIIRS that will eventually aid in the detection and mapping of fires on Earth’s surface. One image, taken on January 19, shows a fire burning in the mountains east of San Diego. A second, taken the same day, shows agricultural burning in South Sudan, East Africa.

Yesterday NASA announced that the satellite would be renamed to Suomi NPP in honor of the late in honor of the late Verner E. Suomi. Suomi is regarded as the “father of satellite meteorology” following a career at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he founded the Space Science and Engineering Center.

The next generation satellite has extensive ties to Colorado’s aerospace industry. Suomi NPP was built by Constructed by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder. The ground system and data-processing system were products of Raytheon Co.'s Intelligence and Information Systems group in Aurora.

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