Google Maps at Night

Europe at NightThere’s nothing more breathtaking than looking at the earth from an astronaut’s perspective thanks to Google’s satellite maps. Unless of course you’ve found this homebrewed version of Google Maps depicting the earth at night. I’ve often been fascinated with pictures of the Earth at night, the continents dark, but spider-webbed with the lights of urban centers, major roadways, and places of other human habitation. I know many teachers have books or magazine clippings with similar images of the lights visible from space. The Google Maps Nighttime web site takes all of those smaller clippings, aging posters and pictures, and turns them into one giant picture of the Earth at night, coupled with the power of Google Map’s roadway overlays, political boundaries, and major cities.

While I have yet to get past the novelty of the site, I’m already coming up with ideas for use in the classroom. Science teachers can use it to show patterns of populations or compare the Day, Night, and Dusk maps (which are all provided with the click of a button). Social Studies teachers can use the map to show how geographical features and regions affect human regions and settlements. Students could quickly, and easily, see patterns of urban sprawl and understand that even though Chicago is just a small dot on the map, it’s actually a much larger and complex area of suburban and development stretching from Milwaukee to South Bend. Discussions of population density, industrial development, and even light pollution can all stem from the use of this map in the classroom.
If you find it useful, or just fun to play with, thanks the wonderful teachers over at Byrd Middle School in Virginia for providing this excellent web site.


  1. I noticed that too Richard. As you move from night to day it seems as though the projection becomes stretched. It very well could be that the night images were scanned in. When you turn on the Night Maps and look at the country borders and roadways everything still seems to line up until you go north of the US and south of the equator. Me thinks some more work is still needed on getting the projection lined up (what mash up couldn’t use a little more work though), but at least the lights are aligned with the map.

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