Suomi satellite brings to light a unique frontier of nighttime environmental sensing capabilities

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Sep 25;109(39):15706-11. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1207034109. Epub 2012 Sep 10.


Most environmental satellite radiometers use solar reflectance information when it is available during the day but must resort at night to emission signals from infrared bands, which offer poor sensitivity to low-level clouds and surface features. A few sensors can take advantage of moonlight, but the inconsistent availability of the lunar source limits measurement utility. Here we show that the Day/Night Band (DNB) low-light visible sensor on the recently launched Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite has the unique ability to image cloud and surface features by way of reflected airglow, starlight, and zodiacal light illumination. Examples collected during new moon reveal not only meteorological and surface features, but also the direct emission of airglow structures in the mesosphere, including expansive regions of diffuse glow and wave patterns forced by tropospheric convection. The ability to leverage diffuse illumination sources for nocturnal environmental sensing applications extends the advantages of visible-light information to moonless nights.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.