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NASA satellite offers up stunning view of the globe at night

Thursday, December 13th, 2012 2:05pm MDT
A stunning nighttime view of North and South America, the west cost of Africa and Europe. (NASA) Click the image for a larger view.

A stunning nighttime view of North and South America, the west cost of Africa and Europe. (NASA) Click the image for a larger view.

The ‘blue marble’ images captured by NASA satellites are extremely popular and showcase the Earth without borders in its natural beauty.  New images dubbed ‘black marble’ show our planet at night with the lights of population dotting the landscape.

The Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) satellite captured the images in April and October and were then stitched together to provide a cohesive, single view.  NASA created a matching video that shows the planet rotating as the nighttime lights rotate on it.

The imagery of the United States shows how much more densely populated the eastern half of the nation is versus the western half.  A look at Colorado shows the main population centers of the Colorado Front Range along I-25 and the many smaller communities that dot the plains and mountains.

See below for some of the stunning views and to view an animation of the Earth rotating.

The night view of the contiguous United States clearly shows where the major population centers are and highlights the more sparsely populated west. (NASA) Click the image for a larger view.

The night view of the contiguous United States clearly shows where the major population centers are and highlights the more sparsely populated west. (NASA) Click the image for a larger view.

Nighttime satellite imagery of Colorado clearly shows the population centers of the Front Range. (NASA)

Nighttime satellite imagery of Colorado clearly shows the population centers of the Front Range. (NASA) Click the image for a larger view.

A zoomed in view of the Colorado Front Range and the area from Colorado Springs, through Denver and on to Cheyenne, WY. (NASA)

A zoomed in view of the Colorado Front Range and the area from Colorado Springs, through Denver and on to Cheyenne, WY. (NASA)

From NASA:

The night side of our planet twinkles with light, and the first thing to stand out is the cities. “Nothing tells us more about the spread of humans across the Earth than city lights,” asserts Chris Elvidge, a NOAA scientist who has studied them for 20 years.

This new global view and animation of Earth’s city lights is a composite assembled from data acquired by the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) satellite. The data was acquired over nine days in April 2012 and thirteen days in October 2012. It took satellite 312 orbits and 2.5 terabytes of data to get a clear shot of every parcel of Earth’s land surface and islands. This new data was then mapped over existing Blue Marble imagery to provide a realistic view of the planet.

To view the video of the night lights, click on the link below the image or visit our YouTube page. To view many more still images and maps of night lights, visit our new feature page: Earth at Night 2012.

The view was made possible by the “day-night band” of Suomi NPP’s Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite. VIIRS detects light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared and uses “smart” light sensors to observe dim signals such as city lights, auroras, wildfires, and reflected moonlight. This low-light sensor can distinguish night lights tens to hundreds of times better than previous satellites.

Named for meteorology pioneer Verner Suomi, the polar-orbiting satellite flies over any given point on Earth’s surface twice each day at roughly 1:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Suomi NPP orbits 824 kilometers (512 miles) above the surface as it circles the planet 14 times a day. Data is sent once per orbit to a ground station in Svalbard, Norway, and continuously to local direct broadcast users around the world. The mission is managed by NASA with operational support from NOAA and its Joint Polar Satellite System, which manages the satellite’s ground system.

Learn more about the VIIRS day-night band and nighttime imaging of Earth in our new feature story: Out of the Blue and Into the Black.

NASA Earth Observatory image and animation by Robert Simmon, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data provided courtesy of Chris Elvidge (NOAA National Geophysical Data Center). Suomi NPP is the result of a partnership between NASA, NOAA, and the Department of Defense. Caption by Mike Carlowicz.

Instrument: 

Suomi NPP – VIIRS

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5 Responses to “NASA satellite offers up stunning view of the globe at night”

  1. Sam Says:

    What are all of those lights in NW North Dakota, that looks out of place.

  2. Thornton Weather Says:

    Good question, Sam, and I don’t have an answer. We were discussing similar, unusual lights in northern Colorado southeast of Cheyenne where there is nothing there. There is a lot of oil and gas development in that area so that is what we suspect it is in our case. Perhaps yours too?

  3. Sam Says:

    I looked at that North Dakota area on a daytime satellite picture and I cannot find anything there of interest. There is the Lake Zahl National Wildlife Refuge and a lot of farm land. That area in ND is sure spread out with a lot of lights. Interesting, maybe someone will have an answer.

  4. Sam Says:

    I found a NASA article that has the North Dakota area enlarged and they explain all of those lights as the oil and gas fields. Here is the article:

    http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/NaturalHazards/view.php?id=79810

  5. Thornton Weather Says:

    Very cool, Sam. I suspect our mystery lights here in Colorado in the imagery are the same thing.

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