Persian Gulf at Night

May 20, 2002


Provided by: Hank Brandli
Summary authors & editors: Hank Brandli; Jim Foster

This photo pair shows the Persian Gulf at night. The top photo was taken on May 8, 2002 and the bottom one was taken on December 5, 1996. Each was taken about 450 miles (720 km) above the Earth at approximately 10 PM local time, using Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) satellites. Of all the weather satellites in orbit, only the DMSP satellites have a low light sensor capable of capturing images at night, with and without moonlight. The waning crescent moon had not yet risen on May 8 (top photo), assuring the high contrast between the lights and non illuminated background.

The brilliant lights in the middle of the Persian Gulf (bottom right) are natural gas flares, which are burning excess natural gas. Natural gas is typically found in association with oil fields. These gas flares are small in size compared to a city, but are sufficiently bright to completely saturate the DMSP satellite pixels. Note that in the last 6 1/2 years, most of the light changes between the two images are related to the gas flares - some new ones on the 2002 image. On the top image, the elliptical aberration, northwest of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, may be a low altitude cloud or could be an artifact of processing.

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