NASA's Satellites Can See Christmas Lights from Space
If holiday lights are lighting up your neighborhood, then they can probably be seen from space. A new study from NASA shows that their satellites can detect increased brightness from cities and suburbs alike during the holiday season.
According to the study, cities shine 20% brighter during the months leading up to the new year, and suburban communities shine up to 50% brighter.
The study demonstrates that hanging Christmas lights has become a mostly secular national tradition. "It's a near ubiquitous signal. Despite being ethnically and religiously diverse, we found that the U.S. experiences a holiday increase that is present across most urban communities," said Miguel Roman, NASA scientist and one of the leaders of the study. "These lighting patterns are tracking a national shared tradition."
[Credit: 1000 Awesome Things]
In the following map from NASA, the green dots represent areas that saw a significant increase in brightness this December:
This map shows the difference between urban and suburban areas, with neighborhoods filled with single-family homes being the worst offenders:
"Overall, we see less light increases in the dense urban centers, compared to the suburbs and small towns where you have more yard space and single-family homes," said Eleanor Stokes, a NASA Jenkins Graduate Fellow and co-leader of the study.
[Credit: Bert Crabbe]
[Credit: Ideas Get]
This study is fun and silly, but according to Roman, studies like this one could also help scientists understand energy use patterns, thereby yielding strategies for making us more energy-efficient: "More than 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from urban areas. If we're going to reduce these emissions, then we'll have to do more than just use energy-efficient cars and appliances. We also need to understand how dominant social phenomena, the changing demographics of urban centers, and socio-cultural settings affect energy-use decisions."