Wallpaper Monday

Earth at night

Satellite imagery has continued to give us more and better high-resolution views of our planet, many of which are breathtakingly beautiful, but none of which show us the true impact of human settlement. This one does.

Courtesy of the NASA/NOAA Suomi satellite, which mapped the planet at local night time, we now have a composite image of an entirely dark Earth. The satellite’s sensors can pick up the light from a single fishing boat, which means that the final image is packed with visual data. You can’t begin to see it from that little version above; instead, check out the full-size version (and click on it once the page opens; the initial rendering is meant to fit your browser, but the full image is vast).

Of course I looked at the Iberian Peninsula first — Madrid sure is hard to miss. And it seems as if the entire population of Portugal is crammed into the coastal areas. Northern Italy is amazing, and there is no way to miss the Nile River. Anyone doubting India’s rise as a modern nation need only look at the way it outshines its neighbors to realize what a powerhouse it really is. (Pun intended.)

Scanning over to Australia, it looks like wildfires in the interior are outnumbering the actual settlements…and the South Island of New Zealand is almost entirely dark (which is how hobbits like it). North and South Korea are like mirror images of each other, with one light and the other so dark that it’s almost indistinguishable from the ocean. And over in the United States, the difference between the eastern and western halves of the nation is nearly as stark.

You can spend a long time playing around with this. But before you do, go over to NASA’s Suomi NPP page and check out their press release. Most of all, you want to go to the bottom of that page and watch the 2-minute video. It’s very cool, and I wouldn’t have recognized the boggling straight-edged cluster of fishing boats in the Yellow Sea without it.

Oh, look at Madeira; you can actually see the shape of the island…[back to playing]

About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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4 Responses to Wallpaper Monday

  1. Jorge says:

    Well, the full population of Portugal IS crammed into the coastal areas. And will be so even further as the central government suffocates the interior with highway tolls and the closing of services that can only depress even further the economy of those areas, already the poorest of the whole nation, leaving people with no jobs and forcing it to pack and leave, either to other countries or to the coastal areas.

    Images such as this (the big one doesn’t open in my browser, though… it’s probably too big) highlight a reality I’ve been arguing for years now: we, in coastal Algarve, live in what basically is one big city (400 thousand strong during winter, 2 million strong in summer)… but one big city that lacks many of the things big cities usually have. Notably an urban public transportation system worthy of that name.

    • oregon expat says:

      I agree with you re: the public transit. I’m a great admirer of the train system in Portugal (but then I’m an American, so it’s pretty easy to impress me), but a person still has to get to the station…and in Loulé, the station is several miles out of town and the city bus does not go there. The only way a person can get to the train is by driving their car (which defeats the public part of public transit), or by paying for a taxi.

      The bus system is worse. There is no direct route from Loulé to the University of Algarve at Gambelas, so students in this area must first go to Faro, then get off, catch a different bus, and backtrack to the campus. The cost each way is ridiculous, and the time required for the trip is very off-putting. b

      There is no doubt we have holes that need to be filled. How we’ll find the funds to fill them, I’ve no idea.

      • Jorge says:


        Still, it’s getting better. Slowly. When I was living in Faro (or, rather, in Patacão) and studying in Gambelas, I had to buy a car. There were buses, yes, but they were so few and far apart (and slow) that they just didn’t suit me at all.

        Then again, back then the Gambelas campus was only those rows of low buildings up in the northwestern corner of the complex. Not even the wooden ones were made when I arrived.

        They were the good old days, and the bad old days… 🙂

  2. Cathy White says:

    Taking ages to load, probably because peak usage time, will try again later. Was the bronze medal there yesterday ?? Either way congrats.

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