LightSail 2 solar sail spots Hurricane Laura from space as satellites track storm's path

An image taken by The Planetary Society's LightSail 2 mission on Aug. 24, 2020, shows Hurricane Laura in the lower left, the Caribbean in the lower center, and the satellite's large solar sail at the top of the frame. (Image credit: The Planetary Society)

A unique satellite has joined the fleet of orbital eyes keeping watch over Hurricane Laura as it approaches the Gulf Coast.

The Planetary Society's LightSail 2 is a crowdfunded solar sail that launched in June 2019 to test whether a satellite could successfully orbit Earth for a year powered only by the sun's rays. It has succeeded and then some, remaining in orbit today. And on Aug. 24, it captured an image of Hurricane Laura (then still a tropical storm) swirling across the Gulf of Mexico. 

"To all near this mighty storm, stay safe out there!" Planetary Society representatives wrote in the post

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Lightsail 2 is hardly the only satellite watching the storm: a host of missions run by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are also studying Laura in order to better keep meteorologists and disaster response experts apprised.

Hurricane Laura is currently a Category 3 storm based on its wind speeds and will likely strengthen to a Category 4 storm later today (Aug. 26) before making landfall, according to a forecast from NOAA's National Hurricane Center.

The storm's consequences are expected to ripple across eastern Texas and Louisiana, with threats including storm surge of up to 15 feet (4.6 meters), heavy rains, powerful winds and perhaps tornadoes. 

After landfall, Hurricane Laura will weaken, but the storm will continue; its remains are currently predicted to travel through Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee and the Virginias, then up along the Atlantic coast.

If you live in these regions, keep an eye on the National Hurricane Center's forecasts for the storm.

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Meghan Bartels
Senior Writer

Meghan is a senior writer at and has more than five years' experience as a science journalist based in New York City. She joined in July 2018, with previous writing published in outlets including Newsweek and Audubon. Meghan earned an MA in science journalism from New York University and a BA in classics from Georgetown University, and in her free time she enjoys reading and visiting museums. Follow her on Twitter at @meghanbartels.