NASA has unveiled the most detailed nocturnal image of Earth to date, and it's a stunner.

Hey, Dave Stanley in San Diego – you left your lights on again.

Well, okay, this stunning shot of Earth's cities glowing at night isn't that detailed. But it's close: The device used to image the planet, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite aboard the satellite Suomi NPP, is eagle-eyed enough to pick out ship beacons shining from the gloom of the Yellow Sea. Suomi also can detect dim signals issuing from street lights, Australian forest fires, gas flares in the Middle East, the Aurora Borealis and perhaps even these illuminated parkour enthusiasts – the work it has done here makes this the most comprehensive nighttime picture of the planet in existence.

Scientists from NASA showed off the composite global image on Wednesday at a American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. It was stitched together from shots that Suomi that captured on cloudless night in April and October, a mission that only took 312 orbits to complete. Some folks are calling the map of light the "Black Marble" to signal the arrival of a suitable nocturnal twin to the "Blue Marble," NASA's ever-evolving image of our planet's globular entirety.

Why's this a big deal? Aside from discerning which cities are total energy hogs, the ability to see Earth at night will help fine-tune the accuracy of weather forecasts. "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," explains NASA. "Night is also when many types of clouds begin to form."

Highlights from Suomi's fly-bys include this flattened view of the seven continents (desktop wallpaper-sized version here):

The United States looking overrun with bioluminescent plankton:

The blazing cities of the Nile Delta:

And this incredible view from early October of the Borealis shimmering over Quebec and Ontario:

Images courtesy of NASA and NOAA.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A sign outside a storefront in Buffalo, New York.
    Environment

    Will Buffalo Become a Climate Change Haven?

    The Western New York city possesses a distinct mix of weather, geography, and infrastructure that could make it a potential climate haven. But for whom?

  2. A line of stores in Westport, Connecticut
    Equity

    Separated by Design: How Some of America’s Richest Towns Fight Affordable Housing

    In southwest Connecticut, the gap between rich and poor is wider than anywhere else in the country. Invisible walls created by local zoning boards and the state government block affordable housing and, by extension, the people who need it.

  3. The Kunsthaus in Graz, Austria.
    Design

    The Prophetic Side of Archigram

    It’s easy to see the controversial group’s influence in left field architecture from High-Tech to Blobism 50 years later, but it’s easier still to see it in emerging technologies and the way we interact with them.

  4. A syringe sits on top of a car. Houses are behind it.
    Life

    The Changing Geography of the Opioid Crisis

    A new study shows that the country faces different opioid challenges in urban and rural areas.

  5. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

×