Fake New Year 2014

Last year I wrote a blog post debunking a picture claiming to be the view of Europe from space "at midnight" on New Year's Eve. The image doesn't show that. What it does show are changes in light between 1993-2003 and comes from the NOAA.

Faked satellite image
Not the view at midnight. CREDIT: NASA/NOAA
Encouragingly, quite a few people on Twitter have been on the ball enough to spot some of the clues to why this isn't "Europe at midnight on New Year's Eve". Here are just four:
  1. The image covers over 4 time zones so "Europe" has midnight at different times not all at once.
  2. There are no clouds. A quick check of the weather shows that the entire continent was not cloud free.
  3. Ireland doesn't just have red fireworks.
  4. Highly flammable North Sea oil rigs aren't the best setting for massive fireworks displays.
As expected, the false claim has been doing the rounds again this year only it seems to have come back stronger. Amongst some of the larger culprits this year seem to be: Belgian news site Nieuwsblad.be's Facebook post (liked over 300,000 times), @GoogleEarthPics's tweet (retweeted over 2800 times), and @Fascinatingpics's tweet (retweeted over 6,400 times).

Although the image isn't New Year's Eve, what it does show is pretty interesting. Red areas are lights that are new in the period 1993-2003. Blue areas are those that have reduced. Orange and yellow are areas of high intensity lighting that have got brighter.

The original NOAA site hosting the image is currently down (WaybackMachine version). I've emailed them to ask them what is happening with that. I've also contacted Nieuwsblad.be and @GoogleEarthPics asking them to issue corrections. Apparently the image has been published in large Belgian newspapers. I'm half expecting the UK's national press to start repeating the claim too. Whatever happens, the likelihood is this is now an annoying annual fixture just like the false "Mars bigger than the Moon" thing every August.

Update 2 Jan 2014 14:05: It seems @GoogleEarthPics replied to my email at 02:32 GMT. Their response was:


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Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Thursday 02nd Jan 2014 (01:59 GMT) | 4 Comments | Permalink
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