How the Pandemic Is Being Told From Space

By: Kevin Lee

As the coronavirus pandemic evolves, so has daily life. When the COVID-19 crisis swept the globe, everything grounded to a halt. Travel and social gatherings were canceled and the economy took a turn for the worse. Yet, all this activity is best seen from space.

Recently, scientists have been utilising weather satellites to observe the change in human activity during the pandemic. By detecting one of mankind’s most influential inventions, artificial light, scientists have been able to discover how the world responded to the coronavirus pandemic.

According to data from the Colorado School of Mines, New York City and Long Island have changed drastically since the pandemic. In the city, lights are dimmed due to restrictions forbidding people to gather in large groups but on the tail of Long Island, where properties are owned by the wealthiest in New York City, the lights are blazing. This is due to the shift in activity from the close, more compact living areas of the city to the more open summer homes of the people in New York City.

Steven Miller, a senior scientist and deputy director of the CIRA, describes the research done with satellites as eye-opening. “But the one thing that really sets it apart from other kinds of satellite data is its ability to capture the human dimension - it offers an epiphany of our own existence and coexistence as a part of Earth’s biosphere.”

In addition to research in the U.S., a team researching how China reacted to the pandemic has made fascinating discoveries.

Qian Liu, a doctoral student at George Mason University in Virginia, used a satellite to observe the change in light in the city of Wuhan along with her fellow researchers.

Their data showed that commercial areas were dimmed while residential areas brightened due to quarantine restrictions enforced by Chinese officials. Qian Liu says, “In China, people’s commercial areas and living areas are separate.”

Lights are also managed in different ways across the globe. Journalist Marina Koren writes how districts in Spain turned off lights to save energy in public places during the pandemic. Italy also implemented a nationwide experiment for Italian researchers to acquire data for light pollution levels in Italy.

Countries also brightened up in memoriam for coronavirus workers. Countries like the U.S. introduced blue lights to commemorate the sacrifices of coronavirus workers. Landmarks across the world also utilised lights to support coronavirus workers in places such as the Great Pyramids at Giza or Matterhorn Mountain in Switzerland.

Even if the world has grown darker, there is still light to look ahead.

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