A new NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite has taken photos of the unclouded Earth at night that are of higher detail than any before. NASA today released the images to the public, providing updated desktop wallpapers for thousands of people. Absurdly large versions of the image can be found here.
The new images depict the glow of both natural and human-made light all across the planet. A new sensor on the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite launched last year has allowed scientists to observe the Earth more accurately than ever during the night. According to NASA, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) sensor is sensitive enough to detect the glow produced by the light from a single ship at sea.
"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 video below shows the images as a globe and describes just what it is that is creating the bright parts of the images. Aside from electric light from cities and towns, ships on the Nile River, oil fires in the Middle East, and wildfires in the Australian Outback can be seen. Of particular intrest, as always, is the stark contrast between North Korea and South Korea. The sharp line of the Korean Demilitarized Zone can clearly be seen, illustrating just how different life is for Koreans on either side of the 38th parallel.