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New NASA Satellite Gets First Look At East Coast

npp satellite image
The NPP takes a peek at a wide swath of eastern North America. (Image credit: NASA)

Here's looking at you, East Coast. A new NASA satellite captured its first look at the eastern seaboard of North America yesterday (Nov. 21).

The Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) onboard NASA's newest Earth-observing satellite, acquired the high-resolution image of a broad swath of Eastern North America from Canada's Hudson Bay past Florida to the northern coast of Venezuela. Earlier this month, the satellite sent back its first look at the Earth.

VIIRS is one of five instruments onboard the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project (NPP) satellite that launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., on Oct. 28. Since then, NPP reached its final orbit at an altitude of 512 miles (824 kilometers), powered on all instruments and is traveling around the Earth at 16,640 mph (26,780 kph).

VIIRS will collect radiometric imagery in visible and infrared wavelengths of the Earth's land, atmosphere and oceans. By far the largest instrument onboard NPP, VIIRS weighs about 556 pounds (252 kilograms). Its data will be used to observe the Earth's surface including fires, ice, ocean color, vegetation, clouds, and land and sea surface temperatures.

"VIIRS heralds a brightening future for continuing these essential measurements of our environment and climate," said Diane Wickland, NPP program scientist at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. All of NPP's five instruments will be up and running by mid-December and NPP will begin 2012 by sending down complete data, she said.

NPP's four other instruments to monitor the environment on Earth and the planet's climate will provide needed information on long-term patterns to assess climate change. Meteorologists will also use the data to improve short-term weather forecasting.

During NPP's five-year life, the mission will extend more than 30 key long-term datasets that include measurements of the atmosphere, land and oceans. NASA has been tracking many of these properties for decades. NPP will continue measurements of land surface vegetation, sea surface temperature, and atmospheric ozone that began more than 25 years ago.

"These long-term data records are critical in monitoring how the Earth's surface is changing — either from human activity or through climate change," said Chris Justice, a professor of geography at the University of Maryland, College Park, who will be using VIIRS data in his research.

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Live Science Staff
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