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spacer features > > > earth lights at night

Earth Lights at Night

composite satellite photo of the Earth on a clear night
Credit: C. Mayhew & R. Simmon (NASA/GSFC), NOAA/ NGDC, DMSP Digital Archive

This is what the Earth looks like at night. Can you find your favorite country or city? Surprisingly, city lights make this task quite possible. Human-made lights highlight particularly developed or populated areas of the Earth's surface, including the seaboards of Europe, the eastern United States, and Japan. Many large cities are located near rivers or oceans so that they can exchange goods cheaply by boat. Particularly dark areas include the central parts of South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. The above image is actually a composite of hundreds of pictures made by orbiting satellites.

A larger, high-resolution digital version of the image is also available, and worth viewing.

On this larger photo, it is easy to scroll east-west and north-south to examine specific regions. For example:

  • Canada's population is almost exclusively along the US border.
  • There is a high population concentration along the Mediterranean Coast. It's easy to spot London, Paris, Stockholm and Vienna.
  • Note the Nile River and the rest of the "Dark Continent." After the Nile, significant lights don't come on again until Johannesburg.
  • Look at the Australian Outback and the Trans-Siberian Rail Route.
  • Note the difference between North and South Korea.
  • Note the density of India and Japan.

What else can you see?

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