NASA Tracks the Planet by Night [Video]

NASA has released satellite imagery showing just how widespread artificial light is at night time — and how many areas of the Earth still lack electricity.

The images are taken from a new sensor, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, fitted to the equally snappily-titled NASA-NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite. The sensor, designed to be able to capture the light from a single ship in the middle of an ocean, is primarily designed to get a better handle on weather conditions, particularly clouds that begin to form at night time.

One side-benefit of the sensor is that the satellite can now track how much light appears at night time, not just from electricity but from burning gas and oil wells, auroras and moon and starlight that is reflected by various natural substances such as snow or clouds.

At the end of October this year staff were not only able to track the Sandy storm day and night as it moved up the Atlantic Coast, but could then see the effects as it led to both planned and unplanned power outages.

The image above is a composite of a total of 21 days (or rather nights) of shots taken in April and October this year from a total of 312 orbits. The light data has been superimposed on the “Blue Marble 2012” daytime shots taken by the same instruments at the start of the year.

The New York Times notes the new images reflect the fact that large areas of Asia and Africa remain without electricity, with an estimated 1.3 billion people living in such regions.

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