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Black Marble Images: Earth at Night

Out with the old

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(Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory.)

On November 12, 2012, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite captured the top nighttime image of city, village, and highway lights near Delhi, India. For comparison, the lower image shows the same area one night earlier, as observed by the Operational Line Scan (OLS) system on a Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) spacecraft.

In contrast to the Operational Line Scan system, the imagery from the new day-night band is almost like a nearsighted person putting on glasses for the first time and looking at the Earth anew, says Steve Miller, an atmospheric scientist at Colorado State University. VIIRS has allowed us to bring this coarse, blurry view of night lights into clearer focus. Now we can see things in such great detail and at such high precision that we're really talking about a new kind of measurement.

Korea and the Yellow Sea

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(Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory.)

City lights at night are a fairly reliable indicator of where people live. But this isn't always the case, and the Korean Peninsula shows why. As of July 2012, South Korea's population was estimated at roughly 49 million people, and North Korea's population was estimated at about half that number. But where South Korea is gleaming with city lights, North Korea has hardly any lights at alljust a faint glimmer around Pyongyang.

On September 24, 2012, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite captured this nighttime view of the Korean Peninsula.

The wide-area image shows the Korean Peninsula, parts of China and Japan, the Yellow Sea, and the Sea of Japan. The white inset box encloses an area showing ship lights in the Yellow Sea. Many of the ships form a line, as if assembling along a watery border.

Following the 1953 armistice ending the Korean War, per-capita income in South Korea rose to about 17 times the per-capital income level of North Korea, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Worldwide, South Korea ranks 12th in electricity production, and 10th in electricity consumption, per 2011 estimates. North Korea ranks 71st in electricity production, and 73rd in electricity consumption, per 2009 estimates.

Clouds off the California Coast

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(Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory.)

On September 27, 2012, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite captured this nighttime view of low-lying marine layer clouds along the coast of California.

An irregularly-shaped patch of high clouds hovers off the coast of California, and moonlight caused the high clouds to cast distinct shadows on the marine layer clouds below. VIIRS acquired the image when the Moon was in its waxing gibbous phase, meaning it was more than half-lit, but less than full.

Low clouds pose serious hazards for air and ship traffic, but satellites have had difficulty detecting them in the past. To illustrate this, the second image shows the same scene in thermal infrared, the band that meteorologists generally use to monitor clouds at night. Only high clouds are visible; the low clouds do not show up at all because they are roughly the same temperature as the ground.