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Suomi NPP Satellite Captures Stunning Images of Earth

Earth at night, as seen by the NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory/NOAA NGDC

The images that NASA produces of deep space objects are always incredible. In this case, however, a spacecraft jointly operated by NASA and its sister organization, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has captured an image of our home world—and the impact that we are having on it.

Scientists revealed a new look at Earth, one that shows an artificially-produced, cloud-free night, which displays natural and man-made light sources illuminating the Earth.

The Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP), or Suomi NPP satellite as it is more commonly known, is equipped with sensors to view the Earth’s nocturnal atmosphere. The spacecraft was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Oct. 28, 2011.


Video courtesy of NASA / NOAA

 “For all the reasons that we need to see Earth during the day, we also need to see Earth at night,” said Steve Miller, a researcher at NOAA’s Colorado State University Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere. “Unlike humans, the Earth never sleeps.”

Suomi NPP utilized the day-night band of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) to detect the light emissions. VIIRS is so sensitive it can even detect the glow of a single ship traversing the ocean, according to a NASA press release.

“It’s like having three simultaneous low-light cameras operating at once and we pick the best of various cameras, depending on where we’re looking in the scene,” Miller said.

This new high-resolution snapshot was released during a news conference held at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco and was one of a number of VIIRS day-night band images displaying events that have either rarely or never been seen prior to the images produced by Suomi NPP.

This image of the continental United States at night is a composite assembled from data acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite in April and October 2012. Photo Credit: NASA Earth Observatory/NOAA NGDC

“The night is nowhere as dark as we might think,” Miller said. “We don’t have to be in the dark anymore, either.”

One of the more striking images produced using the Suomi NPP spacecraft was an image of Hurricane Sandy making landfall off the coast of New Jersey bathed in moonlight on Oct. 29. In that particular series of images, the wide-spread power outages are visible. VIIRS provides a clearer view of weather ranging from hurricanes like Sandy to milder weather such as fog.

“The remarkable day-night band images from Suomi NPP have impressed the scientific community and exceeded our pre-launch expectations,” said James Gleason, Suomi NPP project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Written by Jason Rhian

Jason Rhian gained Bachelor’s Degrees in journalism and public relations from the University of South Florida and spent countless hours volunteering with NASA and other space groups to gain experience. He has interned with NASA twice. Once at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) press site in 2007 and with NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD) in 2009.

Jason has worked with a number of space-related groups and events - including Google Lunar X-PRIZE team Omega Envoy, the 2009 International Space Development Conference and NASA's KSC press site. Jason has covered over 30 launches. His work has been published in Aviation Week & Space Technology, The Spaceport News and online with,,,, Universe Today and other websites.

Whereas some journalists are comfortable repurposing a press release and using imagery provided to them by the public relations arm of that organization – Jason has made a habit of getting behind the pre-approved announcements to cover the events first hand. He covered President Obama’s remarks live from Kennedy Space Center in April 2010. Jason also flew out to Utah to cover the test fire of Alliant Techsystems second test of the company’s Development Motor-2 (DM-2). More recently, he sat in the backseat of history, flying on NASA’s Shuttle Training Aircraft with STS-135 Commander Chris Ferguson as he trained for the last mission of the space shuttle era during the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test (TCDT).

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