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OUR BEAUTIFUL UNIVERSE: Dark blue dot not so dark

Published on Friday, 22 February 2013 00:00


antarcticAntarctic ice, lit by the aurora australis.


Imagery from the new NASA–NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite have been combined to give a realistic set of images of the Earth at night, including sources of light as faint as a single ship at sea. The day–night band of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) detects light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared and uses filtering to observe dim signals such as city lights, gas flares, aurorae, wildfires and reflected moonlight. It can even pick out the edge of the Antarctic ice, lit by the glow of the aurora australis, pictured above. The images will give much improved data on the extent of human activity and how it affects life at the Earth’s surface. VIIRS works at very high resolution – six times better spatial resolution and 250 times better dynamic range than previously available – making it useful for mapping storms and features such as fog and clouds that are difficult to pick up with thermal imaging, and it works through the night, adding useful data for weather forecasting.

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