Earth at night is dazzling (and disturbing)

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Night lights

credit: NASA/NOAA

Earth from afar when illuminated by the sun is a beautiful ball of blue and white swirls that inspires no shortage of awe. But from Earth from afar at night is an entirely different thing; it's an elegant marvel, a black sparkling orb with its own man-made constellations.

We know this thanks to the incredible images captured by NASA and NOAA and their handy-dandy Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) onboard the Suomi NPP satellite. VIIRS can detect light coming from a single ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean or a lone highway lamp in rural North Dakota, explains Popular Science.

The results are actually pretty staggering, not only in their beauty, but in what they tell us about how we're lighting up the planet; and how we're spreading out as well. Comparing images from the 2012 set and the ones here, we can see the inevitable sprawl as populations expand. And while it may look beautiful from space, what is really notable is the incredible amount of light pollution we are creating. While from the darkness of space we can have a good look at at a glittering Earth, from the brightness of Earth we are losing our ability to see the dark sparkling sky. It's to the point where we have designated areas for stargazing: 19 dark sky parks where the heavens steal the show!

See more of the images on the following pages, including some closer shots showing curiosities (like the Nile, it's wild) and panning out to wider shots showing the bigger picture. Above, Europe and Italy, whose boot looks like a constellation.

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