News & Politics

Here’s What Washington’s Christmas Lights Look Like From Space

Satellite images from NASA show just how aggressive we are with the holiday decorations.

Photograph via NASA.

There are a lot of places around here to see great holiday-light displays, but the seasonal decorations don’t just make an impression at ground level. Washington—and most everywhere else—is so lit up during this time of year that the added glow from millions of tiny bulbs is visible from outer space.

Nighttime lights shine 20 to 50 percent brighter around Christmas and New Year’s than the rest of the calendar, according to images taken by the Suomi NPP satellite, an orbiting installation operated by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

According to NASA’s findings, the light given off by populated areas, not surprisingly, starts getting brighter on Black Friday and continues through January 1 before fading down to typical levels. A team at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt compared images of light intensity between 2012 and 2013. The differences in light intensity aren’t as noticable in urban centers, which typically shine brightest regardless of season, but suburbs and exurbs still increase their luminosity between 30 and 50 percent. The image above, focusing on the mid-Atlantic region, shows a solid belt of increased light intensity between Washington and Baltimore. The darker the green dots, the brighter the lights are.

Here’s a video from NASA explaining the science:

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.