The last two years have been banner ones for high-resolution imaging of the Earth. And as remarkable as these images are, these are still (non-moving) images — photographs of one moment in time (or a single, composite image of several moments).
But just last week, at the annual American Geophysical Union meeting in San Fran, NASA unveiled its newest imaging project: a stunning, 360 degree, “cloud-free”, animated view of Earth at night.
Note: in actuality, some cloud formations are visible in these images, but high-altitude cloud cover and the typical opaqueness of lower clouds that obstructs views of the Earth from space, have been eliminated or minimized.
To construct the animation, NASA visualization experts had to stitch together nearly 2 months worth of imagery collected by its newest “eye in the sky” technology: the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), which is part of NASA’s National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project (NPP) satellite.
The image resolution capability of VIIRS is 6 times better than existing, light-sensing satellites — allowing it to resolve not only city lights but light from wild fires, gas well flares (and other industrial operations) and even boats at sea.
Both NOAA and NASA are collaboratively testing applications for VIIRS — such as improving weather forecasts (by mapping nighttime cloud dynamics; inability to track cloud dynamics at night impedes longer-term forecasts), tracking the spread of wildfires at night, and monitoring snow, ice and clouds across the Arctic during its dark winter months.
It could also be used to enhance current satellite-based efforts to track disease outbreaks from space via tracking migrant worker campfires at night.
Watch this beautiful animation of Earth at night — enabled by NASA’s new VIIRS observatory (note: if you look carefully, you can see what appears to be a large tropical storm/hurricane cyclone formation just off the coast of Florida, USA; article continues below)
Some source material for this post came from this Sci Am blog post