The Finnish nuclear power plant is a satellite that observes the earth and is equipped with a camera that sees visible light from the spectrum in infrared. This camera is much more sensitive than its predecessor and can detect fires, northern lights, city lights and even moonlit clouds at night. Data for 22 days from April and October 2012 were used to create this Earth animation, which shows a magnificent and ghostly view of our planet in the rotating darkness of the night:
[Make sure you set it to high definition and make it full screen.]
Pictures of city lights Finnish nuclear power plant mapped to existing data Blue Marble projects make realistic full disk images of the globe. It’s amazing what you can choose from; my favorites are the Nile River, Hawaii in the secluded Pacific, and of course my hometown of Boulder (and Denver). I am always amazed at how the city lights in the United States suddenly stop west of the medieval zone. But when I look up at night and see my dark sky, I am grateful for it.
The information on the Finnish nuclear power plant is very useful. First, city lights map the spread of humanity, so over time we can measure the evolution of urban fragmentation. It is also useful to keep an eye on wildfires, the weather (if the Moon is outdoors illuminating it) and other dim phenomena at night. [Update (Dec. 7, 2012): A lot of people in the comments, on Twitter, and on Facebook were asking about the lights in western Australia, where city lights are rare. I said they were fires, and now a post by NASA confirms I was right.]
I note that the Finnish nuclear power plant orbits about 800 kilometers (500 miles) above Earth and sees only a small part of the planet at a time. This animation contains 2.5 terabytes of data – 2500 gigabytes! – which were sewn together to show the face of the whole Earth in one round. It’s an amazing job, but the end product is a seamless and dramatic view of the home that will change for billions of years and will continue in the times to come.