NASA releases stunning new images of the Earth at night

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Stunning global images of the Earth at night, dubbed “Black Marble”, have recently been released by NASA.

Nighttime images of Earth called “night lights” have been “a tool for fundamental research for nearly 25 years,” says NASA. “They have provided a broad, beautiful picture, showing how humans have shaped the planet and lit up the darkness.”

The last set of images of this kind were released in 2012.

Satellite imaging at night is challenging.  Phases of the moon affects the amount of light shining on the Earth, and clouds and atmospheric emissions must also be taken into account. NASA is studying how light is “radiated, scattered and reflected.”  They now have more accurate nighttime products that they’re automating, with a goal to make new images available for public consumption daily.

The video below, released by NASA, contains a fascinating display of the images they captured.

CBS News spoke to former astronaut Mike Massimino about the images.

“You’re able to get with new technology these great images. You’re able to see where people are living and these pockets around the planet where people exist.”

He pointed out that people in Australia are living along the coast. You can see certain countries that aren’t as affluent as America and are a little bit darker.

He says that America is lit up like a Christmas tree along the East and West coasts.

“Space at night becomes this magical wonderland,” Massimino said.

The new technology is not for entertainment and research alone. It may help with weather forecasting, tracking sea ice movements, reducing light pollution, protecting coastal areas, regulating fishing  and even to aid with disaster response.

Dr. Miguel Román of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland says, “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 United Nations has also used night lights data in Syria to “monitor the effects of war on electric power and the movement of displaced populations,” according to CBS News.

H/T: CBS News

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