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nighttime light

Tracking light from space: Innovative ways to measure economic development

Megha Mukim's picture

  

One of the most common challenges in economic development is collecting comparable data. The information age is changing that as the diffusion of information technology meets changes in institutional attitudes toward data sharing. New capabilities are meeting old capabilities on our desktop computers and it is leading to some bright ideas in how to measure and evaluate economic development.

The first that comes to mind is nighttime lights imagery – colloquially referred to as nightlight data. Nightlight refers to light resulting from human activity visible from outer space at night.  Astronomers call it light pollution. This is pretty accurate since nightlight is the waste by-product when humans use of energy that is emitted or reflected straight up into the sky – these could be city lights, car headlights, fires, etc.