This false-colour infrared image of Earth comes from Europe's newest weather satellite, which was lofted into geostationary orbit on 21-December 2005. A swirl of icy cloud in the south Atlantic is shown in blue, and North Africa is shaded red.

Credit: ESA

The second Meteosat Second Generation satellite (MSG-2) will take images at infrared and visible wavelengths every 15 minutes, which will allow meteorologists to track changes in weather systems.

It will also measure the net balance between incoming radiation from the Sun and outgoing radiation from Earth much more accurately than satellites in lower orbits. Combining the results should reveal how cloud variation affects the heat that Earth loses to space, for example.

After an initial test phase, MSG-2 will enter seven years of operational service above the Gulf of Guinea, and will be renamed Meteosat-9.