The so-called “Black Marble” images display all the human and natural matter that glows and can be sensed from space. What appear most prominently are city lights.
“Nothing tells us more about the spread of humans across the Earth than city lights,” said NOAA’s Chris Elvidge.
This enlightened imagery is made possible through the “day-night” band of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument on the Suomi NPP satellite .
“Unlike a camera that captures a picture in one exposure, the day-night band produces an image by repeatedly scanning a scene and resolving it as millions of individual picture elements or pixels,” NOAA writes.
This nighttime imagery has multiple uses. NASA explains:
Social scientists and demographers have used night lights to model the spatial distribution of economic activity, of constructed surfaces, and of populations. Planners and environmental groups have used maps of lights to select sites for astronomical observatories and to monitor human development around parks and wildlife refuges. Electric power companies, emergency managers, and news media turn to night lights to observe blackouts.
See this Black Marble animation:
In addition to the spherical “Black Marble” imagery, NOAA and NASA have also released flat maps of city lights, including the global and U.S. views shown below.
The Moon via Earth observing satellite
At 4:15 p.m. yesterday, the GOES-East weather observing satellite - which usually just displays weather systems on Earth in its imagery - captured a rare appearance of the moon in the same view as the clouds.
Capital Weather Gang’s tropical weather expert Brian McNoldy, who noticed this so-called “lunar photobomb”, posted images on Facebook.
“A fun tidbit: the clouds and the surface of the earth are about 22,200 miles away from the “camera”, while the moon at this time is about 12x further away (around 268,000 miles),” McNoldy wrote.
Sighting the moon in weather imagery can only happen under certain circumstances. The University of Wisconsin’s CIMSS Satellite blog explains:
As it turns out, the Moon can actually be seen on GOES images a handful of times every year, depending on the viewing angle of the satellite in relation to the position of the Moon
Related: Halloween Moon on GOES-13 imagery (CIMSS)