NASA’s newly released maps of planet Earth at night are providing us all with a totally new perspective of the world.
But the photos, showing the planet dotted with sparkling night lights, show more than just the beauty of our world after the sun goes down.
“Satellite images of Earth at night — often referred to as ‘night lights’ — have been a gee-whiz curiosity for the public and a tool for fundamental research for nearly 25 years,” NASA said in a post. “They have provided a broad, beautiful picture, showing how humans have shaped the planet and lit up the darkness.”
The maps, which are typically produced every decade or so, have “spawned hundreds of pop-culture uses and dozens of economic, social science and environmental research projects,” according to NASA.
Now, the space organization is hoping to inspire us even more by figuring out how to produce these maps on a yearly, monthly, or perhaps even on a daily basis.
A research team led by Earth scientist Miguel Román of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland has been busy analyzing night lights data over the last six years and developing new software to help improve the quality of the images. The team is reportedly on the brink of being able to provide high-definition views of Earth at night every single day.
On April 12, the team released a new global composite map of night lights as observed in 2016, as well as a revised version of the 2012 map. In both, the team was able to correct light from the moon by compositing photos from the darkest nights of the year.
Ultimately, the team said, this data can be used to monitor “short-term changes caused by disturbances in power delivery, such as conflict, storms, earthquakes and brownouts,” but we are OK with it simply providing us with stunning images of our home.