NASA released some of the most spectacular nighttime views of the Earth ever seen from space.
According to NASA spokesperson Rebecca Roth, Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (the satellite that took these images) is so sensitive that it can detect light from just a single ship at sea. “So you can imagine how clearly it can see cities,” she says.
The satellite is able to capture these nighttime views with a special onboard technology called the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS). This program detects light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared. It uses filtering techniques to capture events associated with bursts of light, from reflected moonlight to fiery explosions.
NASA released the Black Marble images at the American Geophysical Union’s conference in San Francisco. The Black Marble name is a riff on another famous NASA composite image called the Blue Marble, a detailed view of the Earth that’s made up of thousands of images taken over the years, starting with the first in 1972 from Apollo 17. The iconic Blue Marble is now a default wallpaper on Apple devices.