Black Marble: NASA View Illuminates Earth at Night
When the sun goes down, the lights on Earth shine bright. A new look using our satellite data captures the lights coming from our neighborhoods, vehicles, buildings, factories, fishing vessels and other human activity brightening the night.
Our scientists have just released the first new global map of Earth at night since 2012. This nighttime view of our home planet, dubbed the Black Marble, provides researchers with a unique perspective of human activities around the globe.
By studying Earth at night, researchers can investigate how and why cities expand, monitor light intensity to estimate energy use and economic activity, and aid in disaster response in near-real time.
The data on Earth at night comes from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument on the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite, jointly managed by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
VIIRS captures visible and infrared light, allowing researchers to glimpse the Earth as it looks to astronauts peering out of the International Space Station. The new map is a composite of data collected in 2016, and it took several months of processing to filter out clouds, moonlight, airglow, and other interfering features to create the global image. In the coming months our scientists will release daily nighttime lights data at even finer resolutions for the first time.
The East Coast sparkles with population hubs, suburbs circling cities and major roadways. The I-95 corridor includes the most densely populated region of the United States – the stretch from Washington, DC to Boston.
To get images like these from the satellite data, our scientists had to filter out moonlight, aerosols and other sources of extraneous light – the goal is to eventually be able to detect the lights from a single building or fishing boat.
Daytime satellite images, like this one from Landsat 8, can show us the forests, deserts, mountains, waterways and built-up cities. Add a nighttime view, and scientists can study when and how people are using these limited resources – like the lights tracing the Nile River leading to the metropolis of Cairo, Egypt.
Lights aren’t confined to land. With the global nighttime view, the ocean is dotted with fishing fleets, including boats that try to attract their catch with bright lights.
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