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  #1  
Old 12-07-2012, 03:02 PM
CC CC is offline
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New NASA night view of US - what are those things?

Found this image on a NASA site.
http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2012/05dec_earthatnight/
It's a recently updated view of the US at night. Two questions arise for me - 1) are all the little light dots in the Gulf of Mexico south of New Orleans oil rigs? If so - they're mighty bright. 2) across the midwest, there appear to be lines of lights - almost a grid. They mostly lie E-W, but many appear to be N-S. A very rough estimate would have the points of light from 20-50 miles apart. Are these Interstate highway oases? That seems very unlikely. I'd think they were not that bright and not that evenly spaced. Dopers? xo, C.
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  #2  
Old 12-07-2012, 03:10 PM
GreasyJack GreasyJack is online now
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Yeah, the lights in the Gulf are probably gas flares off oil rigs. But for a more dramatic illustration of that, do you remember there being a major metropolitan area in western North Dakota?

I think your lights in the Midwest are just very evenly-spaced towns.
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Old 12-07-2012, 03:21 PM
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As I look at a road atlas, I'm tempted to say they're exchanges on the interstates.
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Old 12-07-2012, 03:21 PM
pancakes3 pancakes3 is offline
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I've always wondered if these photos are doctored or enhanced in any way.
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Old 12-07-2012, 03:29 PM
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Originally Posted by CC View Post
As I look at a road atlas, I'm tempted to say they're exchanges on the interstates.
There aren't nearly enough interstates to account for all the lights; most of the towns are along US highways or state highways. But yes, they're towns that are roughly evenly spaced along these major highways.

As to why they're roughly evenly spaced, I expect it would have something to do with the settlement patterns of states like Iowa, and specifically how it was divided up into counties and where the county seats were chosen to be. But that's just speculation on my part.
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Old 12-07-2012, 03:32 PM
Dog80 Dog80 is offline
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Originally Posted by pancakes3 View Post
I've always wondered if these photos are doctored or enhanced in any way.
Yes, in many ways. First of all, these are composite photos (smaller ones stitched together).

Then, the satellites usually "see" in infrared which is invisible to humans. So the colors are adjusted to look like what a human might expect to see(dark ground and white lights)
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Old 12-07-2012, 03:41 PM
enipla enipla is offline
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Originally Posted by GreasyJack View Post
But for a more dramatic illustration of that, do you remember there being a major metropolitan area in western North Dakota?
I noticed that too. What the heck could it be?
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Old 12-07-2012, 03:48 PM
GreasyJack GreasyJack is online now
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Originally Posted by enipla View Post
I noticed that too. What the heck could it be?
It's the Williston Basin, where there's currently a major oil drilling boom going on. Because there's no gas pipeline infrastructure (and natural gas prices are low anyways) most of the gas found in association with the oil is simply being flared off.

Although if Dog80 is right that this is really an IR image, that might be over-representing the actual amount of light being put off by the flares.
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Old 12-07-2012, 03:57 PM
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Originally Posted by GreasyJack View Post
Although if Dog80 is right that this is really an IR image, that might be over-representing the actual amount of light being put off by the flares.
Nasa's site explains the different frequencies and types of data that go into the construction of such an image.
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  #10  
Old 12-07-2012, 04:15 PM
Skammer Skammer is offline
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Originally Posted by MikeS View Post
There aren't nearly enough interstates to account for all the lights; most of the towns are along US highways or state highways. But yes, they're towns that are roughly evenly spaced along these major highways.

As to why they're roughly evenly spaced, I expect it would have something to do with the settlement patterns of states like Iowa, and specifically how it was divided up into counties and where the county seats were chosen to be. But that's just speculation on my part.
In many areas, the evenly spaced towns are a relica of the steam locomotive age. Steam locomotives required regular servicing to take on fuel and water, so these stops were evenly spaced along the railroad. These were accompanied by small whistle-stop stations and amenities for the train crews, and local communities gradually grew around these railroad stops. Later roads and then highways were built to connect towns that had formed along the railway - some larger, some smaller.
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Old 12-07-2012, 04:25 PM
Learjeff Learjeff is offline
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Originally Posted by GreasyJack View Post
Yeah, the lights in the Gulf are probably gas flares off oil rigs. But for a more dramatic illustration of that, do you remember there being a major metropolitan area in western North Dakota?
Oh, that's just the Lake Sakakawea metro area!

Comparing the image with google maps & google earth, it looks to me like the almost regularly spaced ones are small towns on rural highways, many at rural highway intersections.

Last edited by Learjeff; 12-07-2012 at 04:27 PM..
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  #12  
Old 12-07-2012, 04:33 PM
fiddlesticks fiddlesticks is offline
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There's an arc of lights in the countryside south of San Antonio that is another gas/oil boom area (Eagle Ford Shale). If that same satellite had taken the same pictures 5 years ago the region would have been mostly dark.

Railroads originally marked the spots where those evenly spaced towns grew up in the Great Plains, highways came later.

ETA: Oops, didn't see your answer Skammer.

Last edited by fiddlesticks; 12-07-2012 at 04:36 PM..
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  #13  
Old 12-07-2012, 04:53 PM
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That's amazing. I never realized that the towns were so evenly spaced. The pattern doesn't become evident when you look at a map. And it must be that the country is cris-crossed by railroads, although that's also hard to figure. Has anyone ever come across a map of the US showing JUST the railroad lines? Do those grids show up? I've never seen such a thing.
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Old 12-07-2012, 04:59 PM
tomndebb tomndebb is offline
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The evenly spaced lights throughout the midwest, (and in other places), are cities, not interchanges. The Interstate Highway system connected the same cities that existed before it was built, and the towns did not leave. There is a very clear line from just south of Pittsburgh, through Columbus and Indianapolis, then angling south to St. Louis, however it is not following I-70, but US-40 that I-70 "replaced." If you look closely, you can even see that the "line" passes north of Dayton, as marked by Springfield, OH and Richmond, IN. In a ring around the Detroit Metro glare are the fairly bright Port Huron, Flint, Lansing, (with Ann Arbor closer in to Detroit), Adrian (fainter than the others), and Toledo, OH. Following I-94, (or US-12) west from Detroit are Ann Arbor, Jackson, Kalamazoo, and Battle Creek.
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  #15  
Old 12-07-2012, 07:18 PM
Bijou Drains Bijou Drains is offline
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another factor in spacing of Midwest towns was the crops they grew in the area. Some crops required more train stations , others less.
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Old 12-07-2012, 08:38 PM
Suburban Plankton Suburban Plankton is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GreasyJack View Post
It's the Williston Basin, where there's currently a major oil drilling boom going on. Because there's no gas pipeline infrastructure (and natural gas prices are low anyways) most of the gas found in association with the oil is simply being flared off.

Although if Dog80 is right that this is really an IR image, that might be over-representing the actual amount of light being put off by the flares.
There's a "Nasa - Earth City Lights" overlay for Google Earth. Most of the lights are the same as in the image linked in the OP, but that particular patch of brightness is absent. Either it's a timing issue, or it is a matter of different images/filters being used.
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Old 12-07-2012, 08:39 PM
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So who here can calculate the wattage that represents?
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  #18  
Old 12-07-2012, 10:14 PM
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One of the basics of urban geography is the idea that on a Lösch plain (a flat area of fertile soil), towns will spring up at relatively predicatable intervals. Iowa comes pretty close to proving that theory.

The Williston and South Texas smears are striking, but I think it's mostly because the drilling rigs are so dispersed. The huge amount of infrared produced by flaring is an interesting possibility, though.

Railroad maps are not particularly hard to find in old atlases or at the Library of Congress, but they tend to be dendritic (treelike) patterns rather than grids. The "granger roads" through the western prairies built many branch lines to collect the grain from the prairies.
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  #19  
Old 12-07-2012, 10:50 PM
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KarlGauss asked about the view for Australia in this thread http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/...d.php?t=674588 ... some very odd lighting on the west side of Australia that isn't explained.

Are there errors in the images?
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  #20  
Old 12-07-2012, 10:56 PM
Chimera Chimera is offline
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Let's play "Guess where the major roads are"!
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  #21  
Old 12-07-2012, 11:59 PM
Desert Nomad Desert Nomad is offline
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Have a look at North Korea vs South Korea. I've been to both countries... and yes, North Korea is very dark (and very quiet) at night.
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  #22  
Old 12-08-2012, 12:53 AM
mascaroni mascaroni is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GreasyJack View Post
...do you remember there being a major metropolitan area in western North Dakota?
That struck me as odd too. An electrical storm maybe?
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Old 12-08-2012, 03:18 AM
JKellyMap JKellyMap is offline
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Nasa's site explains the different frequencies and types of data that go into the construction of such an image.
There's a whole chapter in Denis Wood's 1990s book The Power of Maps about this.
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  #24  
Old 12-08-2012, 06:17 AM
t-bonham@scc.net t-bonham@scc.net is offline
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Originally Posted by MikeS View Post
As to why they're roughly evenly spaced, I expect it would have something to do with the settlement patterns of states like Iowa, and specifically how it was divided up into counties and where the county seats were chosen to be. But that's just speculation on my part.
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Originally Posted by Skammer View Post
In many areas, the evenly spaced towns are a relica of the steam locomotive age. Steam locomotives required regular servicing to take on fuel and water, so these stops were evenly spaced along the railroad. These were accompanied by small whistle-stop stations and amenities for the train crews, and local communities gradually grew around these railroad stops.
Growing up in western Minnesota, the highway roughly paralleled the railroad line, and there were towns regularly spaced along there. I was told the reason for the regular spacing was to pickup/drop off freight. The towns grew up around stations, and stations were placed so that a farmer could get to one in a horse-drawn wagon, and then get home again before dark. So they are placed at something less than a half-days travel by horse and wagon apart.

I think that's a more likely explanation, since the towns are much closer together than would be needed for steam locomotive re-supply -- with tenders, they can go 40-60 miles between stops.
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  #25  
Old 12-08-2012, 07:42 AM
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Originally Posted by mascaroni View Post
That struck me as odd too. An electrical storm maybe?
Already explained upthread - those are gas flares from the oil and natural gas fields.
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  #26  
Old 12-08-2012, 10:58 AM
JKellyMap JKellyMap is offline
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Originally Posted by t-bonham@scc.net View Post
Growing up in western Minnesota, the highway roughly paralleled the railroad line, and there were towns regularly spaced along there. I was told the reason for the regular spacing was to pickup/drop off freight. The towns grew up around stations, and stations were placed so that a farmer could get to one in a horse-drawn wagon, and then get home again before dark. So they are placed at something less than a half-days travel by horse and wagon apart.

I think that's a more likely explanation, since the towns are much closer together than would be needed for steam locomotive re-supply -- with tenders, they can go 40-60 miles between stops.
True. See the Christaller and Losch economic geography explanations mentioned above. Probably a good overview in Wikipedia under "Central Place Theory."
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  #27  
Old 12-08-2012, 02:19 PM
John Mace John Mace is offline
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Why are these being touted as such a cool thing? Haven't we seen this sort of thing for decades? Don't get me wrong, their cool, but am I missing something about these pics that we haven't seen before?
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  #28  
Old 12-08-2012, 02:35 PM
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I posted the original question, and I had NOT seen those features in earlier NASA pictures. Maybe you had. This is why I raised the issue.
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Old 12-08-2012, 02:45 PM
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Why are these being touted as such a cool thing? Haven't we seen this sort of thing for decades? Don't get me wrong, their cool, but am I missing something about these pics that we haven't seen before?
As I understand it , these images are making the news because they are the first publicly released night-side Earth images from the VIIRS instrument on the Suomi NPP satellite. From the NASA page:

"The new sensor, the day-night band of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), is sensitive enough to detect the nocturnal glow produced by Earth's atmosphere and the light from a single ship in the sea. Satellites in the U.S. Defense Meteorological Satellite Program have been making observations with low-light sensors for 40 years. But the VIIRS day-night band can better detect and resolve Earth's night lights."

So it's the same sort of observation that's been done before, but with better sensitivity and resolution.

Last edited by scr4; 12-08-2012 at 02:48 PM..
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Old 12-08-2012, 03:53 PM
t-bonham@scc.net t-bonham@scc.net is offline
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As I understand it , these images are making the news because they are the first publicly released night-side Earth images from the VIIRS instrument on the Suomi NPP satellite. From the NASA page:

"The new sensor, the day-night band of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), is sensitive enough to detect the nocturnal glow produced by Earth's atmosphere and the light from a single ship in the sea. Satellites in the U.S. Defense Meteorological Satellite Program have been making observations with low-light sensors for 40 years. But the VIIRS day-night band can better detect and resolve Earth's night lights."

So it's the same sort of observation that's been done before, but with better sensitivity and resolution.
Note too, that this incredible whole-earth picture is a creation from several months worth of night time shots. They digitally combined shots of each section, picking ones where that were clear and with no cloud cover. There's nearly always clouds covering parts of the earth on any one day. (Plus, obviously, you can't get it all in one shot -- it isn't night time over the whole earth at once!)
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  #31  
Old 12-08-2012, 04:28 PM
Ludovic Ludovic is offline
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Wow, it really puts more emphasis on how vastly empty some midwest and mountain states are. The large town/small city I grew up in in New York, which currently has fewer than 30,000 residents including tiny suburbs, is HUGE compared to many of the isolated blips out there.
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Old 12-08-2012, 04:37 PM
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...As to why they're roughly evenly spaced, I expect it would have something to do with the settlement patterns of states like Iowa, and specifically how it was divided up into counties and where the county seats were chosen to be...
That's quite insightful, I think, particularly when you look at a map of Iowa that shows the counties. They are almost perfectly evenly drawn and spaced. http://www.cvcia.org/content/wealth.transfer/index.html
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Old 12-08-2012, 04:40 PM
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Wow, it really puts more emphasis on how vastly empty some midwest and mountain states are. The large town/small city I grew up in in New York, which currently has fewer than 30,000 residents including tiny suburbs, is HUGE compared to many of the isolated blips out there.
A person from the west would almost certainly have the opposite take, that the area east of the Mississippi looks dreadfully crowded.

Last edited by eschereal; 12-08-2012 at 04:42 PM..
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  #34  
Old 12-08-2012, 05:04 PM
Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor is offline
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[QUOTE=GreasyJack;15773356]Yeah, the lights in the Gulf are probably gas flares off oil rigs.
[./QUOTE]

Lightning is also a possibility.
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  #35  
Old 12-08-2012, 07:23 PM
fiddlesticks fiddlesticks is offline
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The resolution of this shot is noticeably better than prior ones. For one, note the faint blueish tint to the empty areas of the West: that's reflected moonlight. Also, in the West look to the lines that mark the Interstate highways... that is picking up car and semi headlights from space, man! I'm pretty familiar with the area around Janesville, Wisconsin and noted that this is the first time I've seen Janesville and the smaller town to its immediate northeast, Milton resolved as separate blobs of light. There's also a small dot of light north of Janesville and west of Milton that is almost certainly the lights from a rest area on I-90.

And the gas flares... quite striking (and a little frightening when you consider the climate change implications) in their own right.
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Old 12-08-2012, 07:30 PM
Ludovic Ludovic is offline
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A person from the west would almost certainly have the opposite take, that the area east of the Mississippi looks dreadfully crowded.
What i had in mind was the occasional geographical argument where people look at a map and say "wow, look at this huge sea of red engulfing such a tiny area of blue! We really are a silent majority!"
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Old 12-08-2012, 07:42 PM
cmyk cmyk is offline
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Quote:
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A person from the west would almost certainly have the opposite take, that the area east of the Mississippi looks dreadfully crowded.
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What i had in mind was the occasional geographical argument where people look at a map and say "wow, look at this huge sea of red engulfing such a tiny area of blue! We really are a silent majority!"
No, no, no... They started shooting the mosaics in the west first, then as they approached Mississippi, everybody began decorating their houses and businesses with Christmas lights and finished the project just recently.

"Awww, everybody look at America's christmas lights! Boy, Canada is gonna be so envious."
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  #38  
Old 12-08-2012, 10:53 PM
Mr Downtown Mr Downtown is offline
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Today I noticed another unexpectedly bright area: Hazard County and surrounding coal-mining areas of eastern Kentucky and western West Virginia. There must be open-pit strip mining that goes on at night, same as Australia.
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  #39  
Old 12-08-2012, 10:58 PM
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I thought that was a map of counties that voted for Obama in the light and the ones that voted for Romney in the dark.
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Old 12-09-2012, 12:01 AM
Leo Bloom Leo Bloom is offline
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The resolution of this shot is noticeably better than prior ones. For one, note the faint blueish tint to the empty areas of the West: that's reflected moonlight....
What's the descending, darker Italy-ish-looking blob from Washington state?
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Old 12-09-2012, 01:32 AM
tomndebb tomndebb is offline
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What's the descending, darker Italy-ish-looking blob from Washington state?
Mountains? Similar dark patches are just West of Denver, extending North from Salt Lake City along the "back" of Wyoming along various mountain ranges, and extending up into Montana above Billings where Glacier Park is.

I don't know whether the angles of the mountains deflects moonlight, (like Radar being deflected from the angled facets of an F-117), or whether the mountains have denser conifer forests that reflect moonlight less well.
The darker patches do match some of the more rugged terrain.

Last edited by tomndebb; 12-09-2012 at 01:33 AM..
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Old 12-09-2012, 09:28 AM
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I'm always intrigued to look at these images and note whcih cities aren't as bigm, or are the shape, as I expect. You'd never guess from this that Los Angeles is the second biggest metropolitan area in America, would you? It looks smaller than Chicago, though we know it is not. But that's because it's hemmed in by mountains and desert, I suppose, while Chicago is spread out. Miami looks really compressed. Toronto appears to be smaller than Atlanta, though it's certainly not. The Jersey side looks as big as New York City. Boston is strangely UN-concentrated. Again, most of these are explainable by the geography of the areas, but it's cool.

Last edited by RickJay; 12-09-2012 at 09:29 AM..
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Old 12-09-2012, 10:41 AM
Desert Nomad Desert Nomad is offline
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Originally Posted by Ludovic View Post
Wow, it really puts more emphasis on how vastly empty some midwest and mountain states are. The large town/small city I grew up in in New York, which currently has fewer than 30,000 residents including tiny suburbs, is HUGE compared to many of the isolated blips out there.
Where I grew up, there are places where it is 160 miles to the next town.
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Old 12-09-2012, 08:22 PM
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That's quite insightful, I think, particularly when you look at a map of Iowa that shows the counties. They are almost perfectly evenly drawn and spaced. http://www.cvcia.org/content/wealth.transfer/index.html
Yes, that's a result of the territorial settlement plans (starting with the Northwest Ordinance), where the federal government began to exercise dominion over territories that had not yet been settled (by whites, obv.). Since there wasn't much there, the national government considered itself free to define counties by metes and bounds instead of anything relating to political or geographical features. It goes down much smaller than the county level too. Political maps of the various incorporated and unincorporated suburbs around any Midwestern city aren't as regularly rectangular, but they're all defined in parallel lines and right angles. Quite a contrast to similar maps in the East, where it's pretty much always based on rivers.

--Cliffy
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Old 12-09-2012, 10:07 PM
Leo Bloom Leo Bloom is offline
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Yes, that's a result of the territorial settlement plans (starting with the Northwest Ordinance), where the federal government began to exercise dominion over territories that had not yet been settled (by whites, obv.). Since there wasn't much there, the national government considered itself free to define counties by metes and bounds instead of anything relating to political or geographical features. It goes down much smaller than the county level too. Political maps of the various incorporated and unincorporated suburbs around any Midwestern city aren't as regularly rectangular, but they're all defined in parallel lines and right angles. Quite a contrast to similar maps in the East, where it's pretty much always based on rivers.

--Cliffy
(Bolding mine)
New stuff learned! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metes_and_bounds

I like the way SD'ers will just slip technical stuff in under the wire.

Beating the bounds sounds pretty weird, how you could whack young'uns every foot of the way around the perimeter so they'd remember it the rest of their life.

Now we just perambulate. And in parts of US it's still the law, forever. Wiki, in typical stupidity, gives the follow not specifying whether Massachusetts or New Hampshire:

TITLE III
TOWNS, CITIES, VILLAGE DISTRICTS, AND UNINCORPORATED PLACES

CHAPTER 51
TOWN LINES AND PERAMBULATION OF BOUNDARIES

Section 51:2

51:2 Perambulation of Town Lines. – The lines between the towns in this state shall be perambulated, and the marks and bounds renewed, once in every 7 years forever, by the selectmen of the towns, or by such persons as they shall in writing appoint for that purpose.
Source. RS 37:2. CS 39:2. GS 47:2. GL 51:2. PS 52:2. PL 56:2. RL 69:6.


Last edited by Leo Bloom; 12-09-2012 at 10:09 PM..
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  #46  
Old 12-09-2012, 10:46 PM
Mr Downtown Mr Downtown is offline
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Originally Posted by Cliffy View Post
Yes, that's a result of the territorial settlement plans (starting with the Northwest Ordinance), where the federal government began to exercise dominion over territories that had not yet been settled (by whites, obv.). Since there wasn't much there, the national government considered itself free to define counties by metes and bounds instead of anything relating to political or geographical features.
Hmmm. Well, I suppose there's the germ of understanding hiding in there somewhere, but it doesn't fight ignorance very vigorously.

The only thing the federal government did was to survey all the new territories into rectangles. That made it easy for settlers to purchase the land and eliminated the metes-and-bounds system that had proven so contentious and litigious in the trans-Appalacian West.

As the states organized, the square townships proved an easy way (for the states, not the federal government) to define the new counties. In some states, individual townships themselves became units of local government. These townships sometimes incorporated as municipalities or were annexed by nearby municipalities, giving Midwestern and Western cities rectilinear borders. Others became rectilinear as particular landholdings—themselves quarter-sections or sections—were developed and annexed.
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Old 12-10-2012, 05:35 AM
JKellyMap JKellyMap is offline
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Exactly. If you fly over the US, any agricultural area especially, it's pretty obvious. Squares? That's "township and range." Irregular shapes? That's "metes and bounds."

Recently I was flying over Ohio, which because it was part of the Northwest Territories, I assumed was all "township and range" -- i.e., square. But then I noticed a distinct area of (irregularly shaped) "metes and bounds," somewhere WSW of Columbus, I think.

Sure enough, turns out this was an area where the US government doled out land to Revolutionary War vets, just BEFORE the Northwest Ordinance (when no one really knew what was out there, BTW.)

See? Flyover country isn't always so boring, if you care about historical geography (or biogeography, or geomorphology...but those are different stories...)

Last edited by JKellyMap; 12-10-2012 at 05:36 AM..
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Old 12-10-2012, 09:59 AM
fiddlesticks fiddlesticks is offline
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Originally Posted by JKellyMap View Post
Recently I was flying over Ohio, which because it was part of the Northwest Territories, I assumed was all "township and range" -- i.e., square. But then I noticed a distinct area of (irregularly shaped) "metes and bounds," somewhere WSW of Columbus, I think.
The Virginia Military District, which was an area of great contention through the better part of the 19th century because it was not part of the Public Land Survey and titles were often unclear or under dispute.
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Old 12-10-2012, 10:28 AM
Hermitian Hermitian is offline
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Originally Posted by Telemark View Post
Already explained upthread - those are gas flares from the oil and natural gas fields.
I am not convinced it is necessarily flares. I would think the rig lights may be just as bright at the flares. Do oil rigs have a flare going most of the time?
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Old 12-10-2012, 10:37 AM
Leo Bloom Leo Bloom is offline
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Originally Posted by JKellyMap View Post
....See? Flyover country isn't always so boring, if you care about historical geography (or biogeography, or geomorphology...but those are different stories...)
Amazing how this works: Not five minutes ago I became aware of this article, on ribbon farms:

How a Quirk of Medieval Land Farm Shapes Led to the American Psychology Today

which led me to this, equally fascinating and pertinent:

Ghosts of Geography

Never thought about this my entire life, except vaguely through a bored haze while looking out of an airplane window.

Last edited by Leo Bloom; 12-10-2012 at 10:38 AM..
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