NASA released an image of the solar flare occurred on January 21 captured by the GOES-16 satellite that the agency runs with NOAA using the Extreme Ultraviolet and X-Ray Irradiance Sensors (EXIS) instrument. It’s specifically aimed to observe the Sun and monitor phenomena such as solar storms, which can have consequences on the activity of satellites but also of power plants and other human activities.
The GOES-16 satellite, originally known as GOES-R, was launched on November 19, 2016 to a geostationary orbit. It’s the latest satellite system added to the American GOES (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite) weather satellite system used by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) for weather monitoring and forecasting.
GOES-16 is the first of a new generation of environmental monitoring satellites and is equipped with a higher amount of instruments than the previous ones of the GOES system. These instruments are also more sophisticated because they can detect information not only on the area of the Earth beneath the satellite but also on the Sun and the surrounding space environment.
Solar activity monitoring was already included in the previous generation of GOES satellites for the importance of certain solar events on Earth. Solar flares are checked with particular care because the really intense ones can damage satellites, power grids and even be dangerous to the health of astronauts in space mission.
An event of that type was observed on January 21, 2017 by the GOES-16 satellite’s EXIS instrument, an excellent field test after it just entered service. Luckily it was a relatively small flare yet the intensity of the X-ray emissions from the Sun increased by 16 times.
The EXIS instrument allows to detect these events from the beginning, their power, their duration and their position on the Sun. Using this information the NOAA’s staff can quickly assess the potential impact of a solar flare on Earth and if needed raise the alarm. Essentially, GOES-16 is an excellent satellite for weather forecasts that can keep an eye on exceptional events on Earth but also on the Sun.