The Earth as seen at night, from space – very cool

Posted: December 7, 2012 in Popular Culture et al
Tags: , , ,

These amazing “black marble” views of Earth at night – twinkling city lights, raging wildfires, and colourful auroras – are lit up in new dazzling night-time views of the earth courtesy of a newly launched NASA-NOAA satellite that’s equipped with a sensor to reveal the planet at night.

The photos are stitched together from individual shots much as we would stitch together a “panoramic” photo of a scene using our new sooper-dooper digital cameras. The images are made possible by sensors which detect light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared and uses filtering techniques to observe dim signals such as city lights, gas flares, auroras, …

They provide a fascinating view of the population density of our planet, as well as clearly revealing the new “power centres” of China, India, Indonesia, and Brazil.

The “dark heart” of Africa shows as clearly as anything could how this vast continent is still largely un-urbanised and under-developed with only the western coastal areas and Johannesburg in South Africa breaking universal darkness from the populated Mediterranean strip to the Cape of Good Hope. The clustering of population on the coasts of Australia is also in stark contrast to its desert centre.


earth at night

The huge density of population on the east of the United States, and of the West Coast, stands in stark contrast to the much emptier grasslands, mountains and desert of the centre and West. And here, the new concentrations of urbanisation in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the states of the Arabian Gulf show how the area has grown in significance in the last fifty years, to rival nearby Europe.

europe africa
Similarly, this fascinating shot reveals India, Pakistan, Korea, Japan and China in all their resurgent night-time glory. Incidentally, those lights in the north-eastern interior of Australia are not cities, unless that is somehow evidence of the recent mining boom and they are huge well-lit open cast mines, gas flares and so on, which is possible. I actually suspect it may also be lightning.


For those familiar with the UK and North-Western Europe, this one is easy to decipher. London and Paris very clear, of course, plus the population centres of Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Northern Germany and so on.

In the UK, left to right, you can clearly make out Plymouth, Swansea and Cardiff on the Welsh side of the Bristol Channel, Bristol itself, Liverpool and Manchester with the midland “spine”of England to their right, back to the South Coast and there is Bournemouth and Southampton, London is clear, of course, and then up north Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesborough on the right, and Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen in Scotland. You can clearly see Dublin and Belfast in Ireland, too.

Interesting, too, how the Alps cut a swathe through the south of Europe, with no lights at all except in a few valleys and lake areas.

All those people – eating, sleeping, dancing, driving, watching sport, making love, listening to music, watching TV. One world, with much more that unites us than divides us.

Gotta love science!



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