Assembled from data acquired by the NASA-NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite in April and October 2012, the stunning images unveiled at this week's American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, show "the glow of natural and human-built phenomena across the planet in greater detail than ever before."
According to NASA, the satellite, which was launched last year, is equipped with a new sensor (VIIRS) that "is sensitive enough to detect the nocturnal glow produced by Earth's atmosphere and the light from a single ship in the 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. '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.'"
For a critical take on what the images reveal about politics, the environment and borders, see Olga Khazan's piece in The Washington Post.