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Cloud Satellite Sees Inside Clouds*
CloudSat satellites allow scientists to "see inside the clouds"
Updated 6/9/2006 1:21 PM ET
FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) The first images from a $217 million NASA satellite project to measure the moisture content of clouds provided breathtaking views of storms on Earth, scientists said.
"For the first time we're seeing inside the clouds," said Graeme Stephens, a Colorado State University atmospheric sciences professor and the principal investigator for the CloudSat project. "We can see tropical storms 15 kilometers deep organized on scales of thousands of kilometers across."
CloudSat, a formation of five satellites launched April 28, was developed by CSU researchers in conjunction with other agencies to determine the moisture content of clouds, in the hope of developing long-term precipitation models.
"We want to know how much water is in the sky so we can see how much water falls," Stephens said.
The satellites are in orbit 438 miles above the Earth.
Scientists activated the satellites' radar on Saturday and they took their first picture within 30 seconds, a cross-section of a warm storm front over the North Sea. Since then, CloudSat has captured images of snowfall over Antarctica and a storm over east Africa.
The Antarctic snowstorm pictures were the first ever taken during this time of year, when the continent is in darkness.
Deborah Vane, deputy principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said the project could help scientists make more accurate predictions about snow and rain and about the possible results if the climate changes.
"Fresh water on this planet is a precious commodity and it comes from clouds," she said. "If we can better understand the process that controls precipitation in clouds, we can better understand the challenges we might face in the future."
The project could also help with aviation and weather prediction, Stephens said.
"It can answer the question 'Why is it dry here and not dry somewhere else?' " he said.
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