NASA released the image above – and video below – on March 6, 2017. They are from the first lightning detector in a geostationary orbit, the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) aboard the GOES-16 satellite, launched on November 19, 2016.
In the video below, the Lightning Mapper captured lightning over southeast Texas on February 14, 2017. Houston is indicated by the green cross and green dotted lines indicate the Texas coastline. This animation, rendered at 25 frames per second, simulates what your eye might see from above the clouds. As NASA said:
Frequent lightning is occurring.
NASA said the Geostationary Lightning Mapper is now transmitting data never before available to forecasters, adding:
The mapper continually looks for lightning flashes in the Western Hemisphere, so forecasters know when a storm is forming, intensifying and becoming more dangerous. Rapid increases of lightning are a signal that a storm is strengthening quickly and could produce severe weather.
During heavy rain, GLM data will show when thunderstorms are stalled or if they are gathering strength. When combined with radar and other satellite data, GLM data may help forecasters anticipate severe weather and issue flood and flash flood warnings sooner. In dry areas, especially in the western United States, information from the instrument will help forecasters, and ultimately firefighters, identify areas prone to wildfires sparked by lightning.
NASA had more to say about the GLM, which you can read here.
Bottom line: NASA has released the first images from the Geostationary Lightning Mapper aboard GOES-16.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.