‘Black Marble’: These Are the Most Detailed Satellite Images of Earth at Night Yet

SAN FRANCISCO (TheBlaze/AP) — Twinkling city lights, raging wildfires and colorful auroras are lit up in new dazzling nighttime views of the Earth.

The new images released Wednesday are courtesy of a newly launched NASA-NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite that’s equipped with a sensor to observe the planet at night. Here’s how the sensor works, according to NASA:

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.

There’s the Nile River bathed in city lights. A map of the United States shows the populated East Coast illuminated. Light from fishing boats can be pinpointed.

Nile River Valley and delta. (Photo: NASA Earth Observatory via flickr)
n this image provided by NASA, the United States of America is seen at night from a composite assembled from data acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite in April and October 2012. (Image: AP/NASA)

The satellite also captured the glow from natural sources including moonlight, northern lights and naturally-occurring fires. The sensors on the satellite is allowing scientists to gather data of events they couldn’t necessarily see from space before.

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

(Image: NASA Earth Observatory via flickr)

NASA’s flickr album with more images from the satellites is titled “Black Marble.”

“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.”

Composit map of Earth assembled from data taken by the satellite from April 2012 through October. (Image: NASA Earth Observatory via flickr)

Watch NASA’s video of the satellite image:

It is expected that the satellite will provide data that will make forecasting weather events at night better as well, program scientist for NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System Mitch Goldberg said in a statement.