November 27, 2000
4:43 AM   Subscribe

The World at Night. This amazing image (warning 500K) is actually a composite of hundreds of pictures made by the orbiting DMSP satellites over regions of the world at night. You can clearly see the Nile river, Hong Kong, Hawaii and probably, if you look close enough, the town you are in right now. From Astronomy Picture of the Day
posted by lagado (18 comments total)
NASA also has some desktop sized (1024x768) images of Europe and North America at night.
posted by Aaaugh! at 7:03 AM on November 27, 2000

Some interesting things:

South Korea is bright, North Korea is dark.
India is uniformly bright, and you can almost make out it's borders because everything around it is dark.
The roads through Russia look kind of cool.
What's with the giant bright spot in the far North of Alaska?
Nobody's home in Antarctica.
And as already noted, the Nile is rather impressively bright.
posted by whatnotever at 7:08 AM on November 27, 2000

What's going on in Puerto Rico? That must be the brightest place per capita in the world ...
posted by sylloge at 7:14 AM on November 27, 2000

i look at this map, i see inequality. wealth disparity.

in terms of africa, it gives new meaning to the term "dark continent."

can you imagine living in a dark area?

the country where my brother lives, madagascar, barely registers while the mostly tourist islands further off the coast, La Reunion and mauritius, glow.
posted by palegirl at 7:26 AM on November 27, 2000

I don't think the image would be particularly good choice for displaying economic conditions. More than anything else, it's a reflection of population density.
posted by Aaaugh! at 7:51 AM on November 27, 2000

The bright lights in northern alaska are probably oil fields (as with the middle east). Supposedly many of the lights in south america, southeast asia/Indonesian archipelago, and western africa are actually slash and burn forest fires. Another interesting light source that you often see in these photos are huge fishing fleets off the coasts of Japan. That didn't seem to be caught in this picture though.

The number of lights in the northern canadian islands and greenland is pretty impressive.
posted by kidsplateusa at 8:10 AM on November 27, 2000

A little cropping, and it makes a nice desktop pattern. Got that thing down to 13k!
posted by thirteen at 9:09 AM on November 27, 2000

I think they're using a non-linear brightness scale on the picture so that dimmer lights are exaggerated. I've seen a linear scale picture like this and it doesn't look anything like the same.

By the way, that long thin line across Russia is the Trans-Siberian Railway.

What I think surprises me the most is how lit up Malaysia is.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 9:55 AM on November 27, 2000

Aaaugh: there is some correlation to the population density map, yes, but then western and central africa would appear roughly as bright as most parts of the eastern US. which they do not.
posted by palegirl at 10:00 AM on November 27, 2000

it is a beautiful image though
human evidence and remains are so interesting from a distance
the gulf war was painfully striking
the aids virus in intriguing to view
down to two dimensions and on all fours
what a wonder is man
posted by ethylene at 11:44 AM on November 27, 2000

Palegirl: But rural Australia is no brighter than Africa, and I'm sure that the average per capita income in Australia is at least two orders of magnitude higher than that in most of Africa. And rural India is much brighter than either. I think that the brightness is a combination of population density and electrification, but I'm not sure how I could check this.
posted by snarkout at 12:19 PM on November 27, 2000

Kidsplateusa's mention of slash and burn forest fires prompted me to poke around a bit more. After a little surfing from the APOD page, I found that the NOAA operates a site that tracked fires around the world, also recorded by the DMSP. The sheer number of fires mapped is amazing - makes me want to run to The Rainforest Site.
posted by Aaaugh! at 12:39 PM on November 27, 2000

The Nile in Egypt looks amazing. I wonder why it cuts off at a certain point.
posted by john at 12:49 PM on November 27, 2000

john: It cuts off at the Aswan Dam, at the end of Lake Nasser. Perhaps beyond that, the flooding is uncontrolled and the land is only suitable for farming? Just a guess.

Here's a map.
posted by whatnotever at 1:01 PM on November 27, 2000

Aaaugh!'s mention of The Rainforest Site promted me to, um... fail to think of a way to finish this sentence. Anyway, and let you donate a lot more than the rainforest site. Just so you know (you can get sponsors to buy 250 ft2 by pressing F5 20 times at

The BR-116 highway is probably a bigger threat to the Amazon forest though; you can see a faint pattern of it as well.

Snarkout- I think a better comparison would be South Africa and Mediterranean Africa to the more central parts of the continent. There's a huge difference there, even where the population density is approximately the same. Especially Nigeria; it's surprising how dark it is for a relatively affluent country (in Africa). Of course, there is already a correlation between population density and income, so that plays into it as well.

How long will it take until someone overlays the US part of the map with Bush/Gore(/Nader?) votes? ;)
posted by kidsplateusa at 2:36 PM on November 27, 2000

Is the population density in Malawi really on a scale with that of Egypt? Huh. Live and learn.

Cutting to the chase, can anyone point me to a source discussing how closely urbanization correlates with per capita income? (Obviously it's not a perfect fit, or the residents of Mexico City would be better off than those of Montana, but I'd be willing to believe such a relationship exists, although when you start talking about people who don't rely on "income" for sustinance the question becomes more complex.)
posted by snarkout at 3:34 PM on November 27, 2000

palegirl is right, the brightness generally has more as much to do with wealth as it has to do with population density.

This is very revealing. Australia is mostly dark for the simple reason that NOBODY LIVES OUT THERE!!! It's desert and one that is far more hostile than even the Sahara desert. It doesn't rain out there for years on end. You can see Australia's population is concentrated on the fertile eastern seaboard and the south western corner, in cities you can count on one hand. One half of the population of 18 million lives in or around Sydney and Melbourne.

The vast majority of humanity don't really show up on this map at all. Africa has a total population of around 1 billion, but from a glance at this map, nearly all of them must be living in Johannesburg. Even China and India and only moderately bright. Malaysia's relatively affluent 20 million dramatically outshines Vietnam's 60 million. Italy is for brighter than Greece because it's far richer.

What I see most when I look at this map is where all the greenhouse polluters are!

posted by lagado at 4:23 PM on November 27, 2000

What I see most when I look at this map is where all the greenhouse polluters are!

Not just in terms of lights, but also car exhausts: after all, people turn off their house lights at night, but the street lights stay on, as does the lighting on the highways.
posted by holgate at 5:28 PM on November 27, 2000

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