Yes! Scientists at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and Yale University in Connecticut made use of the satellite imagery for tracking light patterns in 1200 cities over the course of 2½ years. They discovered that correlation of the increased lights happens perfectly with the holiday seasons for Ramadan in the Middle East and Christmas and New Year’s Eve all over the world.
“What’s happening during the holidays is our patterns are changing,” says Miguel Román, a physical scientist at NASA Goddard. In the West, we’re staying up late drinking eggnog and going home from work early. “Those changes in behavior are changes in the locations of demand for energy services.” Understanding such seasonal shifts might ultimately tell us what’s driving carbon emissions at a local level.
While it’s easy to take a snap thanks to numerous satellites hovering above the Earth, high resolution images are still difficult to capture specifically during urban environments. A fancy camera was launched by the Suomi-NPP satellite which had low light sensors to pick up on wavelengths from green to infrared and make more intense images.
“It’s extremely sensitive. Allowing every single pixel to be overexposed, we can pick the faintest signal like a fishing boat out of the coast of Somalia, as well as very bright signals like volcanic magma on the Big Island of Hawaii,” explains Román.
2 years back, NOAA used the camera for making a composite images of a few months of lights at night. For making an image like that, one had to run the raw data by making use of special algorithms. NASA planned to carry this out daily, and hence Román started looking for options. For getting a baseline, he looked at rural areas with low light pollution and also deserts. But while taking some data for Sahara and Egypt, the lights looked like they were overly saturated.
“This was happening in urban areas, so we looked into that, and what we realized was that what we were seeing was that the increase in the signal was timing perfectly with the Ramadan calendar,” recalls Román. He emailed urbanization specialists at Yale, and they were intrigued.