The Hindu festival of Diwali celebrates the victory of Good over the Evil and Light over Darkness. It also marks the beginning of the Hindu New Year. In 2016, Diwali fell on October 30. Lighting lamps, candles, and fireworks are a big part of Diwali. It’s a celebration of light! Can you see those celebratory lights from space? No. More about that below. But you can enjoy it all the same.
Metro.co.uk described Diwali as:
An ancient festival to celebrate the triumph of light over dark and good over evil, Diwali – from the Sanskrit word deepawali, meaning row of lights (from the Sanskrit ‘Deepa, meaning light, and Avali, meaning a row) – is also significant in other religions including Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism.
It marks the homecoming of the God Lord Ram after vanquishing the demon king Ravana.
Diwali is also the Hindu New Year and therefore a major holiday in India, although it’s also celebrated by millions across the world, from India, Nepal and Malaysia to … the UK, with thousands attending Diwali lights switch-on events around the country.
The main festival night of Diwali takes place on the darkest, new moon night of the Hindu Lunisolar month Kartika – all the better to see the fireworks and enjoy the symbolic burning of lamps and candles.
The most recent new moon, by the way, came on October 30 at 1738 UTC. Translate to your time zone.
For several years now, a rumor has circulated that the image below is an image of India during the time of Diwali. But it isn’t true. NASA says the extra light produced during Diwali is so subtle that space images don’t show it.
First, here’s a real image of India during Diwali:
The image above – which has been artificially brightened – shows what India looked like from space on a night during Diwali, in this case in November, 2012. It’s what India looks like from space on a typical Diwali night … or on any night in India, according to NASA.
The image above is from a NASA satellite known as Suomi NPP, for National Polar-orbiting Partnership. An instrument carried on this satellite – which detects light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared – acquired this image in a single night. The image has been brightened to make the city lights easier to distinguish.
Most of the bright areas are cities and towns in India, which is home to more than 1.3 billion people and has at least 30 cities with populations over 1 million. Cities in Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan are also visible near the edges of the image.
Now, here’s a false one:
In contrast, here is a false Diwali image, above. This image has been circulating via the Internet for some years. It doesn’t show what it claims to show; that is, it doesn’t show India on a single night during the Diwali festival.
This image comes from satellite data, too, but not a single satellite on a single night. It’s based on data from U.S. Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) satellites, and it’s a color-composite created in 2003 by NOAA scientist Chris Elvidge to highlight population growth over time. In this image, white areas show city lights that were visible prior to 1992, while blue, green, and red shades indicate city lights that became visible in 1992, 1998, and 2003 respectively.
Happy Diwali to all who celebrate it!
Bottom line: This post contains a real space image of India, taken during a Diwali festival. The image is shown in contrast to another space image – a composite, put together with data taken over many years – which has circulated in recent years. The composite image does not show India during Diwali. NASA says the extra light so many enjoy during Diwali would not be visible from space.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.