Twinkle, Twinkle: Satellites and Earth Lights

Black Marble


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One of the joys of working with weather is that I also work with satellite pictures.

We have all seen the local weather forecasters showing satellite pictures of approaching rains and storms. But most don’t get to see some of the other pictures, especially some of the incredible new nighttime pictures, allowing us to follow the weather day and night. These pictures also show the incredible beauty of the city lights.

Check out the recent picture of Europe.

Some of the latest satellite weather pictures are incredible. Source: NASA

Of course to some, these glowing pools of light, don’t look like jewels, they look like ugly “light pollution”. Certainly the lights keep the city inhabitants from enjoying a clear view of the starry sky. Still, for me, just as the daylight pictures of Earth—the “Blue Marble” is beautiful, so too is the nighttime “Black Marble”.

Look at this photo from 2012. It is a patchwork of images from several months and includes a nighttime photo of Hurricane Sandy heading up the East Coast. The twinkling city lights aren’t just pollution, they are ways to track where weather patterns are and what populations they will affect.

The Black Marble and Hurricane Sandy Source: NASA

Of course, city lights are not the only lights twinkling on the nighttime globe. Satellites are also tracing gas flares, auroras, wildfires, and reflected moonlight. They show moon glint and clouds. Lightning strikes flash and the heat from volcanoes flare. Overlying it all is airglow, because satellites are showing that our atmosphere is never without light. The glow is filled with color, most in shades invisible to human color perception but showing as a green bubble in Earth photos taken from orbit. When satellites focus on the airglow, they can see the ripples of wind and weather patterns.

A huge storm sends ripples through the skies of Texas, visible to satellites observing air glow. Sources: NASA Earth Observatory and NOAA

It’s all data for the scientists, but so much of the data is beautiful to look at. It sure beats reading a spread sheet or graph.

So next time you hear the nursery rhyme, remember: it’s not just the stars that twinkle. So does our home planet.           

~ By  Evelyn Browing Garriss and James J. Garriss

About This Blog

Evelyn Browning Garriss doesn't just blog about the weather forecast; she provides insight on WHY extreme weather is happening--and a heads up on weather to watch out for. A historical climatologist, Evelyn blogs about weather history, interesting facts about the weather, and upcoming climate events that affect your life--from farming to your grocery bill. Every week, we look forward to another great weather column from Evelyn. We encourage our weather watchers to post their comments and questions--and tell us what they think!


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"Hurricane Sandy"

Sandy was NOT a hurricane!!!!!!!!!!!


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