Every fall, Hindus around the world light lamps, candles, and firecrackers as part of a five-day festival known as Diwali. The celebration, which has roots as a harvest festival, usually falls between mid-October and mid-November. In 2012, it began on November 11.
On November 12, 2012, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite captured this nighttime view of southern Asia. The image is based on data collected by the VIIRS “day-night band,” which detects light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared. The image has been brightened to make the city lights easier to distinguish.
Most of the bright areas are cities and towns in India, the country with the world’s largest Hindu population. India is home to more than 1.2 billion people and has 30 cities with populations over 1 million. (For comparison, China has 62 cities with more than 1 million residents and the United States has 9). Cities in Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan are also visible near the edges of the image.
An image that claims to show the region lit for Diwali has been circulating on social media websites and the Internet in recent years. In fact, it does not show what it claims. That image, based on data from the Operational Linescan System flown on U.S. Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) satellites, is a color-composite created in 2003 by NOAA scientist Chris Elvidge to highlight population growth over time. In that image, white areas show city lights that were visible prior to 1992, while blue, green, and red shades indicate city lights that became visible in 1992, 1998, and 2003 respectively.
In reality, any extra light produced during Diwali is so subtle that it is likely imperceptible when observed from space.
- Business Insider. (2011, October 26). This amazing photo of nighttime India is an internet sensation. Accessed November 14, 2012.
- CIOL. (2012, November 14). India from outer space on Diwali? No way. Accessed November 14, 2012.
- Elvidge, Chris. (2011, August 26). Nighttime lights of India (pdf). Accessed November 14, 2012.
- NOAA. (2003). Nighttime lights of India (2003).
- USA Today. (2011, November 2). On Facebook, some photos too good to believe. Accessed November 14, 2012.