Thanks to the NASA-NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite, NASA and the NOAA have released a series of high-quality composite images of the Earth at night time. These images are very high-quality, capturing all sorts of lights, including wildfires and even lights on boats. They've been compiled into a video as well, allowing you to view a 360-spinning model of the Earth at night, which you can view on the NASA website.
These images were gleaned over the course of 312 orbits, and required 2.5TB to store. They represent every surface on Earth; nothing was skimped over or missed. The lights captured represent a whole spectrum of visible lights: reflections from the moon, electric lights in cities, wildfires in the Australian outback, gas lights on boats, and more.
How did they capture such high-quality nighttime images? Via VIIRS, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite. This sensor detects various wavelengths, including almost-infrared to green and back again. Filters are used to draw out the dimmer lights that otherwise wouldn't be noticed, such as collections of boats out to sea.
Said NOAA researcher Steve Miller: "For all the reasons that we need to see Earth during the day, we also need to see Earth at night. Unlike humans, the Earth never sleeps." Some images captured include the power outages that resulted from Hurricane Sandy. Says one NOAA program scientist, the capabilities of VIIRS to gather data will "take forecasting weather events at night into a much higher level."