Night-time Earth, the "Black Marble"

Created: 2012-12-07 12:54 EST

Credit: NASA/NOAA

 NASA has released new night images of our planet on Wednesday, showing it in detail never captured before.

The composite images were taken by a new NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite, creating an image set called the “Black Marble.” Earth can be seen at nighttime, illuminated by city lights, the planet’s atmosphere, the moon and other phenomena, both natural and man-made.

The Suomi NPP satellite has a new sensor: the day-night band of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS). While low-light sensors have been equipped in satellites for decades, this band takes it to a whole new level; it is “sensitive enough to detect the nocturnal glow produced by Earth’s atmosphere and the light from a single ship at sea.” By repeatedly scanning a scene, it reviews the amount of light captured in each pixel, amplifying signals in dark areas and using a low-gain mode to prevent oversaturation from bright pixels. The VIIRS is able to observe light from the green to near-infrared, and filtering techniques allows the detection of different dim signals, including auroras, wildfires and reflected moonlight, allowing researchers to collect data on poorly-viewed nighttime events.

Data acquired between April and October 2012 was mapped over existing Earth imagery. The results were unveiled at NOAA’s Colorado State University Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere.