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The Earth At Night

The Earth’s artificial lights have been captured by NASA’s new Suomi NPP satellite.

The main shot of the United States is a composite of high-resolution images taken in April and October 2012.

It seems the East Coast needs to work on their energy saving habits.

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.

The day-night band observed Hurricane Sandy, illuminated by moonlight, making landfall over New Jersey on the evening of Oct. 29. Night images showed the widespread power outages that left millions in darkness in the wake of the storm. With its night view, VIIRS is able to detect a more complete view of storms and other weather conditions, such as fog, that are difficult to discern with infrared, or thermal, sensors. Night is also when many types of clouds begin to form.

Not only could this new technology advance our knowledge of weather patterns but help in preparation and prevention when hurricanes such as Sandy are headed for land.

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