Holiday lights – seen from space!

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(December 19, 2014) — Seeking out homes decked out in holiday lights isn’t just a “get-in-your-car-and-drive” activity anymore – now, satellites are getting in on the action.

Using data from the  NOAA/NASA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) satellite, scientists have determined just how much patterns in nighttime light intensity change during the holiday season. They say that in many major cities across the U.S. nighttime lights shine 20 to 50% brighter between Christmas and New Year’s when compared to the rest of the year. However, scientists were only able to look at snow-free cities, since snow reflects too much light to correctly analyze data.

“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,” Miguel Román, a research physical scientist at NASA Goddard and member of the Suomi NPP Land Discipline Team, said. “These lighting patterns are tracking a national shared tradition.”

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