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Picture of the day - October 3, 2006

North America At Night

Nighttime view of North America.
Click photo to enlarge.             Photo courtesy of NASA.

Today's picture features a very interesting "nighttime view" of the North American continent. It is a portion of an image produced by NASA that shows all of the earth's land masses at once.

The bright areas are cities and towns with their numerous man-made lights shining out into space. As you an easily tell, the eastern half of the United States is the most heavily populated segment of the continent along with the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts.

When Europeans began to "settle" the New World, they knew that the fastest and easiest way to transport goods and people to other parts of the world was by boat and ship, so they built their cities and towns along the seacoasts, the Great Lakes and the continent's major rivers. That's why there are many "strings" of light scattered throughout the image.

Even though Canada has the largest land mass in North America (and the second largest in the entire world), it is so sparsely populated that the much-smaller Mexico has roughly 3 times as many people - and a quick glance at the distribution of light shows it. Canada has about 1/10 as many people as the United States, and the vast majority of them live within a couple of hundred miles of the American border. In fact, southern Canada and the northern US are really just one large population center sitting to the south of a massive, largely un-populated expanse of wilderness.

Another interesting thing about the picture is the short line of "dots" way out in the Pacific Ocean due west of Mexico. These are the Hawaiian islands, the most remote area in the greater United States. I always knew that Hawaii was quite far from the rest of the country, but this photo sure puts that great distance into perspective!

NASA produces some absolutely incredible images, and in my opinion their composite view of the earth at night is one of the most spectacular of the entire lot!

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