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NASA-NOAA Satellite Reveals New Views of Earth at Night
December 5, 2012
 
This new global view and animation of Earth's city lights is a composite assembled from data acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite. The data was acquired over nine days in April 2012 and 13 days in October 2012. It took 312 orbits to get a clear shot of every parcel of Earth's land surface and islands. This new data was then mapped over existing Blue Marble imagery of Earth to provide a realistic view of the planet.
Credit: NASA Earth Observatory/NOAA NGDC
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Scientists unveiled today an unprecedented new look at our planet at night. A global composite image, constructed using cloud-free night images from a new NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite, shows the glow of natural and human-built phenomena across the planet in greater detail than ever before.

composite view of continental United States showing Suomi NPP observations of nighttime illumination

This image of the continental United States at night is a composite assembled from data acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite in April and October 2012. The image was made possible by the satellite's "day-night band" of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), which detects 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, wildfires and reflected moonlight.
Credit: NASA Earth Observatory/NOAA NGDC
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› High-resolution download and more information->

Many satellites are equipped to look at Earth during the day, when they can observe our planet fully illuminated by the sun. With a new sensor aboard the NASA-NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite launched last year, scientists now can observe Earth's atmosphere and surface during nighttime hours.
 

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The night is nowhere near as dark as most of us think. In fact, Earth is never really dark; it twinkles with lights from humans and nature.
› More views of Earth at night

Away from human settlements, light still shines. Wildfires and volcanoes rage. Oil and gas wells burn like candles. Auroras dance across the polar skies. Moonlight and starlight reflect off the water, snow, clouds, and deserts. Even the air and ocean sometimes glow.
› Feature Story: "Into the Black"
 

-> The new sensor, the day-night band of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), is sensitive enough to detect the nocturnal glow produced by Earth's atmosphere and the light from a single ship in the sea. Satellites in the U.S. Defense Meteorological Satellite Program have been making observations with low-light sensors for 40 years. But the VIIRS day-night band can better detect and resolve Earth's night lights.

The new, higher resolution composite image of Earth at night was released at a news conference at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. This and other VIIRS day-night band images are providing researchers with valuable data for a wide variety of previously unseen or poorly seen events.

"For all the reasons that we need to see Earth during the day, we also need to see Earth at night," said Steve Miller, a researcher at NOAA's Colorado State University Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere. "Unlike humans, the Earth never sleeps."

The day-night band observed Hurricane Sandy, illuminated by moonlight, making landfall over New Jersey on the evening of Oct. 29. Night images showed the widespread power outages that left millions in darkness in the wake of the storm. With its night view, VIIRS is able to detect a more complete view of storms and other weather conditions, such as fog, that are difficult to discern with infrared, or thermal, sensors. Night is also when many types of clouds begin to form.

Suomi NPP nighttime view of the Nile River Valley and Delta

On Oct. 13, 2012, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite captured this nighttime view of the Nile River Valley and Delta.
Credit: NASA Earth Observatory/Suomi NPP
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"NOAA's National Weather Service is continuing to explore the use of the day-night band," said Mitch Goldberg, program scientist for NOAA's Joint Polar Satellite System. "The very high resolution from VIIRS data will take forecasting weather events at night to a much higher level."

Unlike a camera that captures a picture in one exposure, the day-night band produces an image by repeatedly scanning a scene and resolving it as millions of individual pixels. Then, the day-night band reviews the amount of light in each pixel. If it is very bright, a low-gain mode prevents the pixel from oversaturating. If the pixel is very dark, the signal is amplified.

composite world map showing Suomi NPP observations of nighttime illumination

Composite map of the world assembled from data acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite in April and October 2012.
Credit: NASA Earth Observatory/NOAA NGDC
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"It's like having three simultaneous low-light cameras operating at once and we pick the best of various cameras, depending on where we're looking in the scene," Miller said. The instrument can capture images on nights with or without moonlight, producing crisp views of Earth's atmosphere, land and ocean surfaces.
 

Flickr slideshow of more Suomi NPP "Earth at Night" imagery.

"The night is nowhere as dark as we might think," Miller said. And with the VIIRS day-night band helping scientists to tease out information from human and natural sources of nighttime light, "we don't have to be in the dark anymore, either."

"The remarkable day-night band images from Suomi NPP have impressed the scientific community and exceeded our pre-launch expectations," said James Gleason, Suomi NPP project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
 

In daylight, our big, blue marble is all land, oceans and clouds. The night, on the other hand, is electric. This video provides a narrated tour of some highlights of the new Suomi NPP Earth at night imagery.
Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
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Related Links


› "Out of the Blue and Into the Black: New Views of the Earth at Night" (12.05.12)
› More views of Earth at night from NASA Earth Observatory
› NASA's Suomi NPP website
› Suomi NPP project website
› NOAA National Geophysical Data Center: Earth Observations Group, DMSP
› Earth "marble" imagery on Flickr
› NASA Earth Observatory: "Blue Marble: Next Generation" (2004)
› "Earth, Behind the Scenes": How VIIRS data from Suomi NPP becomes "marble" imagery (02.04.12)




 
 
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