Watch this incredible movie, a composite of photographs taken by a satellite on Earth's dark side, knitted together to reveal our globe radiating its fragile light into the darkness of space. It's called "The Black Marble." Yesterday at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, NASA and NOAA released the video to show off what one of their new satellite sensors can do. The sensor is designed to pick up lights on the nighttime Earth, and it's so sensitive that it can see the lights of a single ship on the ocean. Gorgeous.
Many satellites are equipped to look at Earth during the day, when they can observe our planet fully illuminated by the sun. With a new sensor aboard the NASA-NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite launched last year, scientists now can observe Earth's atmosphere and surface during nighttime hours.
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.
The new, higher resolution composite image of Earth at night was released at a news conference at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. This and other VIIRS day-night band images are providing researchers with valuable data for a wide variety of previously unseen or poorly seen events.
"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."
See high resolution photographs of the Black Marble on NASA's Flickr stream.