NASA Earth's Light

Credit Data courtesy Marc Imhoff of NASA GSFC and Christopher Elvidge of NOAA NGDC. Image by Craig Mayhew and Robert Simmon, NASA GSFC.


This image of Earth’s city lights was created with data from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) Operational Linescan System (OLS). Originally designed to view clouds by moonlight, the OLS is also used to map the locations of permanent lights on the Earth’s surface.


The brightest areas of the Earth are the most urbanized, but not necessarily the most populated. (Compare western Europe with China and India.) Cities tend to grow along coastlines and transportation networks. Even without the underlying map, the outlines of many continents would still be visible. The United States interstate highway system appears as a lattice connecting the brighter dots of city centers. In Russia, the Trans-Siberian railroad is a thin line stretching from Moscow through the center of Asia to Vladivostok. The Nile River, from the Aswan Dam to the Mediterranean Sea, is another bright thread through an otherwise dark region.


Even more than 100 years after the invention of the electric light, some regions remain thinly populated and unlit. Antarctica is entirely dark. The interior jungles of Africa and South America are mostly dark, but lights are beginning to appear there. Deserts in Africa, Arabia, Australia, Mongolia, and the United States are poorly lit as well (except along the coast), along with the boreal forests of Canada and Russia, and the great mountains of the Himalaya.



NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation's largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.


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  • lucky leprechaun 5y

    no wonder they call africa the dark continent

    amazing picture!
  • CO!MBRA 5y

    This is just amazing...
  • o_r_i_t 5y

    This is one of the images of Earth that I love most.
  • Sociolingo Africa 5y

    Hi, thanks for this photo. I have used it to illustrate a post on SocioLingo Africa (with attribution). Here's the link:
  • Jason Major 4y

    I don't know whether it's more amazing how many places are still dark, or how much we have illuminated the rest of the world in "only" about 100 years. It's really not that long of a time for so many changes humans have made.
  • Jamie Ball 4y

    Too much light pollution!
  • James Moore 4y

    This is AWESOME.
  • Mauro (A) 4y

    :) waaao
  • EL_KAB0NG 4y

    I have a poster of this currently on the wall of my office. It's called The Brilliant Earth and you can tell just by looking at the differences between the two, that it must have been taken quite some time ago...
    Brilliant Earth by EL_KAB0NG
  • Agubben 4y

    Interesting, I expected Australia to be more lit up...
  • eec_iv 4y

    Another area that is dark - North Korea. Political boundaries influence the map also.
  • Denise 4y

    Stunning! I used your image here
    Merry Christmas World
    Thank you!
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Taken on February 25, 2010
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