Nightsat is a concept for a satellite system capable of global observation of the location, extent and brightness of night-time lights at a spatial resolution suitable for the delineation of primary features within human settlements. Based on requirements from several fields of scientific inquiry, Nightsat should be capable of producing a complete cloud-free global map of lights on an annual basis. We have used a combination of high-resolution field spectra of outdoor lighting, moderate resolution colour photography of cities at night from the International Space Station, and high-resolution airborne camera imagery acquired at night to define a range of spatial, spectral, and detection limit options for a future Nightsat mission. The primary findings of our study are that Nightsat should collect data from a near-synchronous orbit in the early evening with 50 to 100m spatial resolution and have detection limits of 2.5E(-28) Watts cm(-2) sr(-1) mu m(-1) or better. Although panchromatic low-light imaging data would be useful, multispectral low-light imaging data would provide valuable information on the type or character of lighting; potentially stronger predictors of variables, such as ambient population density and economic activity; and valuable information to predict response of other species to artificial night lighting. The Nightsat mission concept is unique in its focus on observing a human activity, in contrast to traditional Earth observing systems that focus on natural systems.
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