Black Marble: NASA Releases Incredibly Detailed Photos of Earth at Night

You’ve probably heard of The Blue Marble, an iconic photo of Earth captured in 1972 from 28,000 miles away by astronauts on the Apollo 17 spacecraft. Well, NASA has just released a number of photographs titled “Black Marble.” They offer the same perspective as the iconic photo, except these new images show what our planet looks like at night!

The photograph above shows North and South America (original resolution here). It’s a composite photograph created using images snapped by a satellite over the period of around three weeks in April and October of this year.

It took the satellite 312 orbits around our planet to capture 2.5 terabytes of imagery. The data was then mapped onto existing Blue Marble photographs to create Black Marble.

The satellite used a special new imaging system that can detect extremely dim signals. Scientists removed certain non-human-generated lights (e.g. gas flares, auroras, reflected moonlight) from the frame in order to have the photos only show artificial city lights (some wildfires remain, though).

Here are a couple more Black Marble photographs showing different sections of our planet (click the photos for highest-res versions):

Here’s a zoomed-in view of the United States and Europe using the same imagery:

Here’s an animation created using the photos, showing the dark side of the Earth as it rotates:

These aren’t your average nighttime shots of Earth: Rebecca Roth of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center tells us that these are among the most detailed nighttime Earth photos we’ve ever seen.

  • Ayden Gotzmer

    Very cool! The aliens definitely know we’re here lol.

  • Marcus

    in image 2, at the bottom australia is clearly seen. there seems to be alot of glowing artificial human lights in the desert where nobody lives, leading me to think these photos are full of u know what…

  • Anthony Harrison

    Exactly what I thought

  • Tim

    I was just about to make the same comment. Either man-made or natural, I think there is simply no way that much light would be emitted from south western Australia.

  • fOu

    of what ???

  • Michael Zhang

    Thanks for pointing this out! :)

  • erroticus

    I agree. the lights in Australia is all wrong! looks like a load of “Bull” to me!

  • Philip Mitchell

    South America and Africa’s lights are off, but everyone’s home.

  • Zágros Os

    amazing earth! .. our lovely planet ….. that we’re destroying everyday!!

  • Robert

    Interesting to see the oil field rig lights in North Dakota and the Eagle Ford Shale fields south of San Antonio.

  • Andy Dent

    wildfires possibly and also a lot of mining operations. Residence wise, you can pretty much black out the entire interior of the country – all the major cities are on the coast (written from Perth, that bright dot on the lower left edge)

  • rtfe


  • Oz

    Definitely not wild fires! Nothing but desert there. There’s mining but not THAT much!

  • Mike

    This is absolute bull, as fake as it gets.

    Let’s look at Australia. There is a city of Perth in the south west corner, the city of a population of approximately 1 million. The rest of Western Australia, which is essentially the western half of the country, is a few thousands, basically – none. However, on the picture above, there seems to be about 50 places of size of Perth. Give me a break.

    The video that says it’s bush-fires is also a load of rubbish. Are we looking at bush-fires across the WA that are covering 50 times the area of a 1-million-size city? I don’t think so. If there was one fire of this size it wold be a major, major, major natural disaster, 50 of them would be the end of the world. The area ‘covered’ by ‘bush-fires’ is approximately the size of France, Germany and England combined. Imagine the bushfire of that size.

    Also, they forgot that a reasonable part of the world is covered by clouds or did they get that one perfectly claer night world wide … LOL

  • Richard Forster

    I have a National Geographic poster called “Earth at Night” from about ten years ago (?) that shows a similar amount of some kind of activity in WA. Buggered if I know what causes it. Maybe its all the Min Min lights!

  • Curious

    I checked several different sources for satellite photos of Australia at night from the last 20 years.. All of them have a lot more lights in WA than you would expect. I think there might be more going on there than we realise. Have a search on the net and see whether you find the same.

  • anamika


  • Clay

    The link for the Europe close up doesn’t appear to be working :-(

  • plp

    seems like noone uses electricity in cape town.

  • Coinneach

    I live in Scotland and we seem to be well represented, especially the central belt as I would expect.

    south of the border though they seem to have missed out all of England from the Black Marble 3 image and the video, although the info is there in the Europe shot.

    maybe they used the lights of England in WA?????

  • Santa Claus

    Awesome. ” Marbly the best ” ;-)

  • Santa Claus

    We all are well represented.
    Because we all are from the same planet, ‘Mother Earth’

    ( And it is incredibly beautiful )

  • Richard

    Sorry that’s impossible, there are rarely wild fires in that area of Australia as it’s so barren, there isn’t that much to burn. Also if it were a wild fire, then it’s more surface area than Texas, if the whole of Texas was on file don’t you think it may have made the news? We haven’t had any significant bush fires even 1/50th of that size in WA in the past 5 years.

  • LarryAt27N

    Really, why off Earth would NASA scientists want to BS anyone?

  • Maffu

    They do actually state that the images are stitched together from clear areas of several satellite shots – in this instance they had no interest in clouds.

  • Harro

    no one lives in New Zealand? maybe it was blocked by all the smoke from the Western Australian bush fires?

  • jac

    It’s a composite photograph created using images snapped by a satellite over the period of around three weeks in April and October of this year. It took the satellite 312 orbits around our planet to capture 2.5 terabytes of imagery.

  • Tom Key

    It’s hot during the day in central Australia. Maybe the mining operations take place at night.

  • Titus

    I like to use one shot for a flyer I am working on – its for a event of environmental issues and non-commercial. Does the author of this blog has a contact name, where I may ask if we may use one of these pictures? Thanxs

  • Ric

    Perth has 1.9 million people, there is a lot of scrub in the north and Midwest so it doesn’t take much for the wildfires to spread quickly

  • Tony

    Glowing Nile is also interesting..

  • Matt Lehotsky

    This is unacceptable, we need to burn more coal and oil and light up the whole planet. It should show up like a light bulb or another sun from a distant galaxy.

  • Carlitus901

    In Australia have lights in the desert :o the aliens stay prepared an attack for the Australia

  • Good Job

    Obama is involved in this cover-up some how or should I say mis-information.

  • prof100

    the lights belong to mining areas s attachedee map marking major mines