Take a look at this crop I snipped from a large composite image, courtesy of the NASA Earth Observatory:
What I’ve cropped is the southwest corner of the North American continent. Satellite views like this one are useful for gaining perspective on population density and energy usage, two variables which are tightly linked in prosperous (or flagrantly wasteful, take your pick!) societies.
Of course Phoenix, LA, and Las Vegas stand out in this view, but even small towns like Bisbee and Douglas here in my neck of the woods can easily be made out.
I recommend that you take a look at one of the high-resolution images of the entire planet available from the Earth Observatory site:
These images were assembled from many satellite images. For each region a view without any cloud cover had to be found. I think the stitched-together results are fascinating and thought-provoking, but what I’d really like to see is two analogous images: one from a century in the past and another from a century in the future. Of course the 1912 view would be mostly black, with just a scattering of lights along the eastern seaboard, but the 2112 view (one of those palindromic years) is difficult to predict. I imagine some emissary from the far future handing me an envelope, saying:
“So you want to see the earth from space a century hence? Take a look!”
I might be reluctant to look. It’d be like asking for the results of medical tests indicating the presence of an incurable genetic disease.
I’d be afraid I’d find within the envelope a view of blackness, with only a few volcanoes and wildfires to illuminate the gloom.
What I would hope to find within that ominous envelope is a view of a scattering of smaller, more decentralized glimmers of light, indicating perhaps that the human race had somehow acquired an infusion of sanity.