Water is fundamental to life on Earth, affecting the behavior of the weather, climate, energy and ecological systems as water moves through the Earth’s water cycle as vapor, liquid and ice. Precipitation, a key component of the water cycle, is difficult to measure since rain and snow vary greatly in both space and time. Obtaining reliable ground-based measurements of rain and snow often presents a formidable challenge due to large gaps between reliable instruments over land and, particularly, over the oceans. From the vantage point of space, satellites provide more frequent and accurate observations and measurements of rain and snow around the globe. This allows key insights into when, where and how much it rains or snows globally, supplying vital information to unravel the complex roles water plays in Earth systems.