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NASA satellite image shows just how isolated North Korea is from the rest of the world

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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I have an update to the North Korea by night entry I posted several days after Kim Jong Il’s death in December 2011. At the time, I wrote “perhaps there is no better visualization of the isolation and oppression that the North Koreans live under”. I would like to amend that statement to reflect this updated set from NASA’s Earth Observatory (link).

We see with even more clarity the isolation of North Korea in direct contrast to the prosperity of the South. The lights literally run up to the 38th parallel and end. Full stop. Unbelievable.

The reason we can see these lights so clearly is that the image contains wavelengths through the visible spectrum up to infrared using NASA’s Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometry Suite (VIIRS) satellite. Filtering and post-processing allow everything from city lights, wildfires, gas flares, and yes, even fishing boats (check out the seaborne lights) to be visible.

David Wogan About the Author: An engineer and policy researcher who writes about energy, technology, and policy - and everything in between. Based in Austin, Texas. Comments? david.m.wogan@gmail.com Follow on Twitter @davidwogan.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. elderlybloke 10:32 pm 12/19/2012

    Early to Bed,early to Rise-makes a man,healthy,wealthy and wise.
    The blacked out people may be wise (possibly).
    One out of three is all North Korea can manage.

    Link to this
  2. 2. SteveinOG 1:29 am 12/20/2012

    This is a sad photo. The people who live in this shadow land have no choice about their drab fate. Nothing could illustrate better the inhuman perversity of dictatorial communism.

    Link to this
  3. 3. randoo 2:01 am 12/20/2012

    Looks like most of Canada.

    Link to this
  4. 4. @lloydcata 6:39 am 12/20/2012

    Please post the image of Haiti so we can get some contrast in the Western Hemisphere.

    You remember Haiti, right? That place on Earth where suffering is manufactured and poverty is a cash crop.

    They don’t have a succession of Kims in Haiti; as a ‘colony’ they now have Bill & Hillary, who are the personal protectors of the Duvaliers.

    Link to this
  5. 5. jwmeritt 3:04 pm 12/20/2012

    The line between India and China is almost as sharp…

    Link to this

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