NASA Releases Breathtaking Global Maps Of Earth At Night

Posted: Apr 13 2017, 5:55pm CDT | by , Updated: Apr 13 2017, 6:02pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
NASA Releases Breathtaking Global Maps of Earth at Night
Composite image of continental U.S. at night, 2016. Credit:NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román

The composite images provide the clearest ever view of the patterns of human settlement across our planet

NASA has just released incredible new maps of Earth at night, providing the clearest ever view of human settlement patterns across the planet.

Night images of Earth taken by satellites are also known as “night lights.” These broader views of Earth nights help researchers gain insight into human activity and how they have shaped the planet over the years.

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NASA’s earth scientist Miguel Román and his colleagues have created these Earth maps by combining several satellite images and those images were taken by the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite.

Since the launch of the NASA-NOAA Suomi satellite in 2011, Román and his colleagues have been analyzing night lights data and developing new software and algorithms to make night lights imagery clearer and more accurate. They are now on the verge of providing stunning high-definition views of Earth at night that could be updated yearly, monthly or even daily. These images will be released later this year.

The latest collection however includes new global composite map of night lights as observed in 2016, as well as a revised version of the 2012 map from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA. The most challenging thing about the nighttime satellite imagery is adjusting the phases of the moon, which constantly varies the amount of light shining on Earth, though in predictable ways.

However, researchers have tried to provide unprecedented new look at our planet at night, showing the glow of natural and human-built lights across the planet in greater detail than ever before.

The images were made possible by satellite’s Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite instrument, which detects photons of light reflected from Earth's surface and atmosphere in 22 different wavelengths and allows researchers to distinguish the intensity, types and the sources of night lights such as city lights, gas flares, auroras, wildfires and reflected moonlight.

“Thanks to VIIRS, we can now monitor short-term changes caused by disturbances in power delivery, such as conflict, storms, earthquakes and brownouts," said Román. "We can monitor cyclical changes driven by reoccurring human activities such as holiday lighting and seasonal migrations. We can also monitor gradual changes driven by urbanization, out-migration, economic changes, and electrification. The fact that we can track all these different aspects at the heart of what defines a city is simply mind-boggling.”

The brightest areas in the images represent cities, towns and other developed parts of the Earth but it does not necessarily mean that they are also the most populated ones. The darkest areas reflect on forests and oceans. These images of nighttime lights are used to study weather around urban areas.

Most satellites around Earth are designed to observe Earth during the day when our planet is fully illuminated by the sun. However, Suomi NPP satellite observes every location on Earth during nighttime hours, roughly 1:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m. (local time) each day. And because it is a civilian science satellite, the data are freely available to scientists within minutes to hours of acquaring.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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