Satellite offers new night image of Earth

Dec. 5, 2012 at 7:10 PM
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BOULDER, Colo., Dec. 5 (UPI) -- NASA scientists say a new image of the Earth at night shows the glow of natural and human-built phenomena across the planet in greater detail than ever before.

Cloud-free night images from a new NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite have been combined to show illumination from city lights, gas flares, auroras, wildfires and reflected moonlight, the space agency said Wednesday.

The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite aboard the NASA-NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite launched last years is sensitive enough to detect the nocturnal glow produced by Earth's atmosphere and the light from a single ship in the sea, scientists said.

"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 satellite instruments allow scientists to maintain detailed observations of Earth's atmosphere and surface during nighttime hours as well as daytime, researchers said.

"The night is nowhere as dark as we might think," Miller said.

And with the satellite instruments helping scientists study human and natural sources of nighttime light, he said, "we don't have to be in the dark anymore, either."

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