Lights of Mankind: The Earth at Night As Seen from Space

By L. Douglas Keeney

Lyons Press, 2011; 288 pages, $32.50

Astronauts have been able to view Earth from space for decades, but, surprisingly, only in the last decade have photographs of our planet’s nighttime lights become commonplace. Space stations orbit so fast that landscapes below are blurred in ordinary photos, and it was only after a the development of fast-tracking cameras and light-sensitive, high-speed digital chips that a book like this could be produced. The traceries of light in these photos are evidence of humankind’s
presence that can’t be seen in daylight. Lights cluster in places of dense population and development, outlining continental shores, networks of roadways, the chain of industrial developments along the Trans-Siberian Railway, and of course the sprawl of cities. Magnified views of the great metropolises of the world are so detailed you can clearly identify major thoroughfares and civic centers. But the majority of the Earth’s surface remains dark at night—vast stretches of Central Asia, the Arctic, the Sahara Desert, most of the Australian continent, and the oceans. That should remind us how precious is habitable land on our globe, and how delicate is the balance between civilization and nature.

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