BALTIMORE (WJZ)—Earth has been called a blue marble ever since that famous picture was snapped by astronauts standing on the moon.

Alex DeMetrick reports new imagery from NASA has now given our home a new nickname: the black marble.

Up to now, the best views of Earth from space took daylight to see. Not anymore.

The first of a new generation of satellites, in a partnership by NASA and NOAA, are seeing better than ever at night.

“The sensors detect light levels below what we can see with our eyes,” said Rob Simmon, Goddard Space Flight Center. “You can see details in the city. You can actually see things on the ground by moonlight and even by starlight and air glow.”

By moonlight the technology captured Hurricane Sandy as it slammed into the East Coast.

And the potential of night imagery is just being scratched.

“So our weather forecasters now by looking at the new imagery say, ‘I can do the same kind of things I do in the daytime at night.’  And that enables a whole new class of things that can be done,” said Dr. Jim Gleason, NASA researcher.

“We can monitor forest fires. We can monitor smoke plumes from forest fires. The data is used to monitor snow packs and sea ice, which is very important for navigation, access to the Arctic,” said Dr. Mitch Goldberg, NOAA researcher.

And it does it globally.

The bright spots in Australia are wildfires.

Now from space, the impacts of people are written in light across countries and continents, things unseen from this vantage point in sunlight.

It’s a lot of illumination for a black marble.

The new satellite is in a polar orbit, and is able to scan the entire planet in 14 passes.


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