What can change in a night? NASA intends to find out, at least in so far as detailed images of light patterns can tell us, reports al.com. For nearly three decades, so-called "night lights" compiled from satellite images have provided us with evening views of our planet—and helped us track population centers—about once every 10 years. Now NASA is releasing detailed images captured during every month in 2016 ahead of schedule; the latest ones were published in 2012. And it's just the start: The agency is developing new software and algorithms so it can publish the "broad, beautiful picture" of our world at night on a yearly, monthly, or possibly even daily schedule.
In the "stunning" images released last week, per CBS News, the agency says we've now got the clearest composite views ever captured of human settlement patterns, thanks in large part to the 2011 launch of the NASA-NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite and our ability to crunch the resulting data. Scientists could use the information to not only track human movement (even boat lights are visible), but to help monitor unregulated fishing, track sea ice movements, reduce light pollution, and monitor the effects of war and natural disasters on electric power. The team is separately working on fine-tuning estimates of carbon dioxide emissions. For now, they plan to release daily high-def "night lights" to the science community later this year. (Satellite images can also track the sinking of buildings.)