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Google Maps lets users explore NASA's 'Black Marble'

Using NASA and NOAA's striking images of the Earth after dark, the Web giant creates an interactive map showing the world's flickering lights on a cloudless night.

Google Maps' interactive "Earth at Night" feature that lets users explore the planet once the sun sets.
Screenshot by Dara Kerr/CNET

Google Maps is now letting users explore Earth's far-reaching lands filled with flickering lights using imagery from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's "Black Marble."

The Web giant announced the launch of its own Earth at Night today, which is a global view and animation of the images taken from NASA and NOAA's jointly operated Suomi NPP satellite. These series of images show what the Earth looks like from space once the sun sets.

"It took 312 orbits to get a clear shot of every parcel of Earth's land surface and islands," Google wrote in its description of Earth at Night. "This new data was then mapped over existing Blue Marble imagery of Earth to provide a realistic view of the planet."

NASA and NOAA released the series of nighttime photos last week giving earthlings the clearest view yet of what our illuminated planet looks like after dark. Besides the 312 orbits, NASA and NOAA's project required an extremely powerful Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite sensor to capture 2.5 terabytes of pictures. The cloudless shots were then compiled and sewn onto the classic "Blue Marble" imagery.

In Google's new interactive map, users can search from continent to continent to see what different countries look like on the Black Marble -- from the Sahara's darkness to New York City's bright glow to the smattering of lights throughout all of India.