Google Maps Adds NASA Nighttime Satellite Imagery

Google, NASA and the NOAA have released high resolution nighttime satellite images that illuminate everything from cities to ships at sea.

J. Nicholas Hoover, Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

December 11, 2012

3 Min Read

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Less than a week ago, NASA released "Black Marble," a set of high-resolution images of the Earth at night, illuminated by the electric lights of cities worldwide. Already, thanks to a partnership between Google and government agencies, people can explore the imagery in Google Maps.

The imagery released by NASA last week was collected by the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) satellite during 312 orbits of Earth over 22 days in April and October 2012, and then composited and mapped over NASA's high-resolution Blue Marble Next Generation imagery.

Although users won't be able to zoom down to the street level like they can in Google Street View and the satellite view of the standard Google Maps, they can zoom down to the city level, which enables viewing of gas flares produced by oil and gas drilling and exploration in North Dakota and the Middle East, wildfires in Australia, boats crowding the Nile River in Egypt and the lights of New York City and London.

Google announced the collaboration with NASA Earth Observatory and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Geophysical Data Center, which Google is calling Earth at Night 2012, in a post Monday on Google+.

[ Read 11 Cool Tools NASA Curiosity Brought To Mars. ]

NASA also has released its own interactive version of the imagery overlaid onto a map as part of NASA Earth Observing System Data and Information System's (EOSDIS) Worldview tool. Worldview, first released to the Web in July, includes up-to-date satellite imagery and overlay data from 50 different data streams.

Suomi NPP, operated out of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, has sent vast amounts of scientific data and imagery -- particularly climate imagery -- to NASA since its launch in October 2011. Other recent nighttime observations include images of Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath, images of wildfires in the Western United States in July and images of power outages in Washington, D.C., after a freak summer storm.

Suomi NPP's Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) is so sensitive that it can pick up light from a single ship at sea, and is an improvement over past satellites that could pick up nighttime images.

According to NASA, scientists will be able to use the data from VIIRS and Suomi NPP more generally to study a long list of topics, including climatology, population movement, auroras, bioluminescence and the extent of arctic ice.

Suomi NPP is also responsible for NASA's most recent 86,400-pixel-by-43,200-pixel Blue Marble imagery, which is composed of daytime images from VIIRS. NASA has been taking satellite images of Earth since 1960, but the recent Blue Marble and Black Marble series are some of the highest resolution images yet released.

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About the Author(s)

J. Nicholas Hoover

Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

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