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View the NASA Space Place Archives here

NASA's Space Place

Studying Storms on Earth

By Teagan Wall
National Aeronautics and Space Administration

You’ve probably seen some scary storms with very fast winds. But did you know that over the oceans, spinning storms can create even faster winds? These storms are called tropical cyclones. Depending on where they happen in the world, these storms also go by other names, like hurricanes (in the North Atlantic Ocean) and typhoons (in the Western North Pacific Ocean). In order to study these storms, NASA created the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System, or CYGNSS.

When the tropical cyclones spin, there is an area in the center called the “eye.” The eye of the storm has less wind and rain than other parts of the storm. What happens on the ocean’s surface in the eye may tell scientists what the storm will do next. However, the eye is surrounded on all sides by high speed winds. This area is called the eye-wall. If a person were to go to the eye-wall to study the ocean’s surface, it could be very dangerous.

But satellites can safely study what happens in the eye and eye-wall of an ocean storm. CYGNSS is launching in November, and has eight satellites that will orbit the Earth. They will look at the ocean surface, and measure how fast the wind is going. Although other satellites can measure wind strength, sometimes rain from inside the tropical cyclone can make their measurements less accurate. However, the CYGNSS satellites will be able to accurately measure the strength of the wind, even in rainy weather.

When there is a storm, the CYGNSS satellites will be able to watch it get stronger or weaker. They can see what is happening in the eye and eye-wall of the storm from space. Scientists will use information from CYGNSS to learn more about how storms form. It may help them predict where a storm is going. The satellites may also help us know if a storm is going to get worse.

When tropical cyclones move toward land, they can be very dangerous for people who live in the path of the storm. If we know when a hurricane or typhoon will happen, where it will go, and how strong it will be, we can keep people safe. CYGNSS may help us do that. This is just one way NASA is helping us here on Earth, as well as exploring the stars.

Want to learn more about how hurricanes form? Visit the NASA Space Place for more information: http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/hurricanes

Artist’s concept of one of the eight Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System satellites deployed in space above a hurricane.

Image credit: NASA

For more information and activities visit: spaceplace.nasa.gov