Marit Jentoft-Nilsen/Robert Simmon/NASA

The space agency gives a highly detailed look at the tournament's vast geography.

Proving its devotion to monitoring spheres that zoom through space, NASA has jumped into the football fray with images of the 12 Brazilian cities hosting World Cup games, lit up at night like blazing stadium lights.

The shots from the Suomi NPP satellite—which has a special tool to pluck the faintest of glimmers from the nocturnal landscape, such as the vessels spotted in the black ocean—show the broad geography of this year's FIFA tournament. Above is a zoom on the crowded metropolises of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the latter being the site of the final match on July 13. The former was the host of Thursday's kick-off game between Brazil and Croatia at Arena Corinthians. (Croatia lost to the historical Brazilian juggernaut, after being dinged by a suspect penalty.)

These two urban areas represent the country's most densely populated zone, but many host cities are strewn over the country's massive girth, which measures more than 2,500 miles from east to west and north to south. Below, find the remaining 10 World Cup stops in a wider satellite image, whose generation was probably more complicated than most would think. Explains NASA:

The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite captured the images on August 4, 2013. The nighttime view was made possible by the VIIRS "day-night band," which detects light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared and uses light intensification to enable the detection of dim signals. The instrument can sense light 100,000 times fainter than conventional visible-light sensors, making it very sensitive to moonlight and city lights.

Unlike a film camera that captures a photograph in one exposure, VIIRS produces an image by repeatedly scanning a scene and resolving it as millions of individual picture elements, or pixels. The day-night band goes a step further, determining on-the-fly whether to use its low, medium, or high-gain mode. If a pixel is very bright, a low-gain mode on the sensor prevents the pixel from over-saturating. If the pixel is dark, the signal will be amplified.

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