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Eye in the Sky

Japanese meteorologists are getting more precise readings on weather phenomena thanks to a new tool. The Himawari 8 satellite has successfully completed testing is now operating 36,000 kilometers above the Earth.

The satellite, launched in October, is the world's first geostationary weather satellite, which means it follows the rotation of the earth and orbits directly over the equator. Its imager can capture observations in great detail - and instead of shooting objects in black-and-white, it records in vivid color.

"This allows us to observe details in color, of things including the ocean and the ground," says Takeshi Otomo of the Japan Meteorological Agency.

The satellite offers imagery resolution four times better than its predecessor. The older device could take photos of typhoons and other weather events just once every half hour. But the Himawari 8 can shoot images every two-and-a-half minutes.

Meteorologists say the upgrades will help them observe weather events such as typhoons and torrential rain. The satellite will also ensure forecasts can be more precise.

The Himawari 8 is already helping scientists keep an eye on volcanic activity. It relayed images of a recent eruption on Kuchinoerabu Island in Japan's south with pictures showing light gray smoke drifting southeast.

"We'll use information from Himawari 8 for disaster prevention and other essential tasks," says Otomo.

Officials say the Himawari 8 will also be useful to people outside Japan as climate change triggers more extreme weather. Meteorologists in Japan will provide data to countries throughout Asia and Oceania to help reduce natural disaster risks.

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