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 Relevant information about this satellite page
The latest generation of GOES weather satellites (GOES-8,9,10) all carry 5 imaging sensors. They are in the following portions of the electromagnetic spectrum:
     Channel 1: Visible (0.6 microns)
     Channel 2: Shortwave Infrared (3.9 microns)
     Channel 3: Water Vapor (6.7 microns)
     Channel 4: Infrared (11 microns)
     Channel 5: Infrared (12 microns)
The Satellite link above provides real-time satellite images from the first 4 channels listed above on a 15 to 30 minute updating basis. The page contains links to close-up, high resolution images of both visible and infrared images. The resolution capability of these satellites is approximately 1 km for channel 1, 4 km for channels 2, 4, and 5 and 8 km for channel 3 (at the satellite subpoint). The images available here are remapped to a Lambert Conformal projection with a spacing of 2 km for channel 1 and 5 km for all other channels. This resolution is not perfectly maintained in the final images because JPEG compression is "lossy", however file size is optimized for the web.
Question:  What do the numbers on the images mean?
The visible channel displays albedo or reflectance expressed as a percentage. For example, a bright white shade may indicate 70% albedo. The infrared (IR) channel is calibrated to temperature and expressed in degrees Celsius. Where clouds exist, the temperature is that of the tops of clouds. Where clouds do not exist, the temperature is that of the ground or the ocean. This information could be very valuable to aviators since clouds with tops below 0°C, may indicate that an aircraft icing hazard exists.
   The water vapor channel is also calibrated to temperature in degrees Celsius. Interpreting the actual values displayed on the water vapor images is not useful. Lastly, the shortwave IR data (channel 2) contains a mixed signal of reflected solar energy and emitted energy (unlike the longer wavelength IR channel 4 which measures emitted energy only). Because data at these wavelengths includes reflected solar energy, it cannot be directly related to cloud-top or ground/ocean temperature. The brightness data measured by the satellite's sensor is calibrated and displayed as a temperature scale in degrees Celsius. Used alone, it is not too terribly useful, but when used in multispectral analyses, it can provide very useful data.
More details in plain English, please:
The visible images display the earth very similar to how humans see it with their eyes or how typical cameras view it. Clouds and snow appear bright white (high albedo/reflectance) but oceans and trees are much dimmer.
   The infrared images display the earth in a manner that correlates with temperature. Generally speaking, the warmer an object, the more infrared energy it emits. The satellite sensor measures this energy and calibrates it to temperature using a very simple physical relationship (Planck's Law). In the real world, clouds that are very high in the atmosphere are generally quite cold (perhaps -50°C) whereas clouds that are very near the earth's surface can be quite warm (perhaps +5°C). Likewise, the land may be even warmer than the lower clouds (perhaps +20°C). Those colder clouds emit much less infrared energy than the warmer clouds and the land emits more than those warm clouds. The data measured by the satellite are calibrated and colorized according to the temperature with red shades representing higher (warmer) temperatures and blue shades representing lower (cooler) temperatures. If the temperature of the atmosphere decreases with height (which is typical), a user can get an idea of which clouds are high-level and which are low-level based on the cloud top temperature.
   The water vapor images display the earth in a manner that correlates to quantity of water vapor in the upper portions of the atmosphere (25,000 feet and higher in general). The actual numbers displayed on the water vapor images correspond to temperature but there is no direct relationship between these values and the temperatures of clouds (as is the case for infrared images) since this channel doesn't really "see" clouds but "sees" high-level water vapor instead. The most useful tidbit to be gained from the water vapor images is the locations of storm systems and the jet stream. Another useful tidbit is aided by the color scale used on the images. In general, regions displayed in shades of red are VERY dry in the upper atmosphere and MAY correlate to crisp blue skies from a ground perspective. On the contrary, regions displayed in shades of blue or green are indicative of lots of high-level moisture and may also indicate cloudiness. This cloudiness could simply be high-level cirrus types or serious storms. That determination cannot be gained from this image by itself but could easily be determined when used in conjunction with the other channels.
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