Sunday, 6 August 2017

Tech: These unbelievable space images of Earth at night are a bunch of beautiful fakes


They're simulations based on NASA satellite data. And they're gorgeous.

Nothing makes me feel more connected to the rest of the human race than seeing images of Earth from space, especially those taken at night.

National borders vanish, and rivers of light unite our towns and cities into a single glowing tapestry. It makes the planet resemble a giant, glowing, orb-shaped spaceship drifting through the void of space.

Just look at this incredible view of Europe, sparkling with artificial light:

Er, wait a minute.

If you've seen enough images of Earth from space at night, or you care to look closely enough, this image looks funny — and yet it has been shared all over the internet as a legitimate NASA photograph.

Seeing is believing, though. Compare it to this photograph of the Iberian Peninsula, taken by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station in July 2014:

As it turns out, the first — and arguably more breathtaking — image is actually a computer rendering created by Russian graphic artist Anton Balazh (Антон Балаж).

Scroll to see more of Balazh's mind-boggling views of Earth and learn how he pulled them off.

It may be hard to believe, but this is not a real image of Earth from space at night.

Yes, this is northern Europe. But no, it is not a photo.

Nope, not the real United Kingdom.

They're computer renderings created by Anton Balazh, a graphic artist who lives in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Balazh liked working with 3D programs, he previously told Business Insider, and thought a model of Earth would be fun to make.

So he did, though it wasn't an overnight project.

Balazh spent "several years gradually complicating the model," he says.

For realism he downloaded countless gigabytes of real satellite images from NASA's Visible Earth catalogs.

Source: NASA Visible Earth

Then spliced in ocean depth (or bathymetry) data for a realistic-looking seafloor...

...And sea level data for accurate-looking coastlines.

And, using NASA-based topography data, he exaggerated the height of mountain ranges that would normally look flat from space.

He also layered in city light data collected by the Suomi NPP satellite, which orbits the Earth.

Source: NASA Visible Earth

A series of images, like the collection shown in this story, takes Balazh a solid month of work to prepare.

"There are many different tweaks" to polish a shot, he says: amping up city lights, raising mountains, or casting artificial moonlight in just the right way.

Each image has about "20-30 million polygons" to form realistic 3D terrain.

The original 5,000-by-5,000-pixel files would take dozens of mobile phones to display at full resolution.

"Rendering a single image takes ... tens of hours on a multi-core computer with 32 GB of RAM," he says.

Balazh sells his images to stock image services, which he says "sell well every day."

His model of Earth pulls in enough money for him to take vacations...

...And enjoy all that the real Earth has to offer.

from - Nigeria's entertainment & lifestyle platform online

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