City lights can reveal more by their absence

City lights are annoying for backyard astronomers, but from space they are fascinating, revealing a 1:1 scale map of human civilization — for the most part.  They also reveal coastlines, offshore drilling operations, fishing vessels, and the paths of freeways and railways.  A few structures always particularly strike me — the blazing ribbon of light that is the Nile in Egypt, the delicate spiderweb of lines coming out from the Trans-Siberian Railway, where the rails have facilitated urban development, and the remarkable rise of light in North Dakota over the Bakken Shale Formation.  And then there’s the one that is notable for the absence of light.

I’m talking about North Korea.


As you might have guessed from the solar panel visible at the top of the image, this was taken from the ISS.  You can see the blazing inferno of light that is Seoul, a highly technological city of of over 25 million people, and you can see ribbons of light along the coastlines of South Korea and China, and also along the DMZ to the north of South Korea.  But North Korea is nearly invisible.  Pyongyang, a city of over 3 million, is dimmer than some of South Korea’s smaller cities, yet it is nearly the only major North Korean light source visible here, apart from a few smatterings here and there.  It’s quite remarkable, and more than a little sobering.


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