NASA is known for its “Blue Marble” images, which show Earth’s sunlit disk as seen from space — and now it’s making a splash with the nighttime view, nicknamed the “Black Marble.”
This picture of the night lights of North and South America is just one frame in the Black Marble series, which is based on data from the Suomi NPP satellite and was unveiled today during the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in San Francisco.
The image has been built up from readings made by the weather/climate satellite’s Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, or VIIRS. It’d be tough to snap this kind of picture at any single moment, because of cloud cover as well as seasonal changes in the way sunlight falls on our planet. Suomi NPP’s handlers had an easier job, because the satellite could make multiple passes in April and October. Those fly-overs produced data that could be presented as a full-disk nighttime view of Earth.
NASA says the VIIRS instrument’s “day-night band” is well-suited to pick up on dim signals such as city lights as well as gas flares, auroras, wildfires and reflected moonlight. For the Black Marble images, stray sources of light were removed during processing to emphasize the city lights.