How One Image Of NASA Tells To Us Dozens Of Stories

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How One Image Of NASA Tells To Us Dozens Of Stories
How much can a single picture tell us about ourselves?

This is a composite image of several satellite photos. It can help us better understand the current developments and conflicts underway.

The amount of light pollution is most severe in heavily populated areas, as well as in regions of high prosperity. In Europe, the Benelux district and the thickly populated Po-Valley are splendid to such an extent, that the individual towns mix into one major ocean of light. Especially in the Arab world, the extraction of oil creates bright lights from the flaring of gas. What's more, in Africa, you can follow the way of the Nile River, which, as the life saver of egypt, draws in human advancement and is loaded up with business vessels. In the mostly uninhabited regions of western Australia, the satellites could even capture lights from wildfires that occurred over a span of 22 days. And in Asia, the Indian subcontinent is clearly standing out. Nearly 20% of the planet's population lives here, and the rapid population and economic growth can be seen by comparing the area from how it looked in 2012 and then again in 2016. However, it is just as interesting to look at the regions where there is no light.

The Syrian civil war, which has wiped out hundreds of thousands of lives, has darkened the country. Due to the ongoing fights, the electrical grid is only partially available and the power supply is poor. Aleppo, the largest city in Syria is considered an important cultural place. But the war has almost completely destroyed the historic city.

The darkening can also be observed in Raqqa, which has long acted as the de facto capital of the terrorist Islamic State. When we see a city darken in these images, it shows the annihilation of a place and its history and ultimately the end of many human lives. These black pixels in such an image can say a lot more than the lit ones. This also applies to the Korean Peninsula. While South Korea is brightly lit, North Korea is almost completely black. The metropolitan area around the capital of the south, Seoul now has more than 25 million inhabitants.

The population density here is twice that of New York City and eight times larger than that of Rome. Also, the waters surrounding Korea are brightly lit from the numerous fishing boats off the coast. According to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, there are clear rules for how far off the coast a country may explore its resources. Additionally there are several agreements between countries that regulate fishing. This creates odd looking shapes and perfectly straight lines, bringing to light the absurdity of dividing our planet into arbitrary legal zones. All these lights from South Korea and the waters that surround it stand in stark contrast to the north, where only the North Korean capital Pyongyang stands out a bit.

North Korea's energy infrastructure is obsolete and power shortages are frequent. While South Korea is easily accessible. Much of what happens in the north remains in the dark. And the strictly guarded border, dividing both nations, the DMZ, is clearly traceable. This image may be the most impressive illustration of how big the impact of more than 70 years of division are. But the map also teaches us, the long lasting impact such separations can have. Even those, that have already been overcome. At the time of the Cold War Germany was separated into east and west and the city of Berlin was divided as well. And as a result of that, it’s city lights still appears in two different colors. The western part of the city was cut off from the rest of West Germany and relied on gas lamps because it wanted to be independent from a possibly failing power supply. Although germany has been reunited since 1990 and this separation has been overcome for more than a quarter of a century, it can still be seen from space.

This image points to the global challenges posed by the steadily increasing world population. And while man-made borders can not be seen during the day, the lines of political origin become apparent at night, but appear all the more absurd and artificial. When seen during sunlight, the human effect on our planet is more subtle. In any case, this single picture features the social partitions and political hardship from both the past and the present.


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