Hoax: India Map on Diwali night from NASA Satellite

Every year during the festive season of Diwali (Deepavali), this hoax goes viral all over social media & internet forums, filling everyone with awe. Titled “India map on Diwali night from NASA Satellite”, it falsely claims that was captured on the night of Diwali, and deduces that the bright colors on the map depict the fireworks (different colors due to different types of fireworks) which light up the sky in India during Diwali.

This is nothing but clever manipulation and misinformation to mislead youngsters, and can actually be called one of the biggest internet hoaxes in India. The image is now so popular that some creative minds have taken it forward as sarcasms to mock their state govts for power cuts as well.
If the image is not of Diwali, then what exactly is it? Let’s analyse.

If you can recollect an earlier article in which we had discussed about maps & satellite images, you would find a satellite imagery titled “Earth Lights”.
Here is that article:

There are more versions of such satellite night imagery of the world, as well as images of different locations and also from different timeframes (some even dating back to the early 1990s).
Here is the official site where you can find all those details:

When you visit the above mentioned webpage and scroll down almost to the bottom, you can find a mention of India. It actually says “A similar picture for India, using three colours to also compare brightness levels for 1992, 1998 and 2003, is available here from NGDC”

Notice that the word “here” is actually a hyperlink and clicking on it takes you to the following website:

If the above link is broken, you can check the archive of that webpage using the following link:

Check out the 2nd image (titled “RGB Composite of Nighttime Lights Change”) in the above link. This is the image which becomes viral in social media every year.

Now that we have found out the official source of the image, which makes it very clear that it is from 2003, and no way related to Diwali, let’s find out what exactly it is, by analyzing it further. Why are the lights of varying colors & shades, ranging from yellow to green to red? Why is it that Odisha lights are dominantly red, while lightings in Madhya Pradesh are green? Does it mean Odisha Govt uses red tinted streetlights?

These colors on the satellite images are not the actual colors of the lightings, but they suggest something else. The colors signify the change in nighttime lights over the years from 1992 to 2003. i.e The blue color indicates lights which started appearing from 1992, green color indicates lights from 1998 and so on. It does not mean the light colors are red/green. As usual, the colors will be white/yellowish but they have used these colors for the purpose of representation only.

Coming back to the earlier question of Odisha’s red color. As per the above mentioned color coding, red spots mean those lights started appearing from 2003 onwards (but which were not in 1998). Since lights in a region is a result of development & electrification in the area, it means Odisha started developing seriously only from the late 90s. Similarly, green lights over MP suggests that the state started developing only from the early 90s, and so on. Economic statistics from official sources also confirm the same.
Now, one might wonder why would someone want to do so much of color coding for lights over time and spend so much money on imaging. As it turns out, it is actually a major area of research which is undertaken to analyze economic growth at different levels (state, district etc) and as it indicates the prevalence of electricity & lighting (infrastructure), it depicts the economic growth & development of that region.

In fact, there have been many intensive research & studies conducted based on these satellite imagines. Here is an example of one such PPT presentation which was prepared by the Data centre to study India’s economic development.

Notice how the graphs in later slides present economic development on a state level basis.
If you are interested in exploring this topic further, you can search for books & courses related to “Geophysical data analysis” which uses data of earth lights, magnetic fields and a host of other relevant data to build a data model of the earth for all kinds of analysis.
Image courtesy:

Coming back to the hoax image being circulated with zeal, it is actually very heartening to see many enthusiastic & patriotic youngsters who are proud of their nation, roots and cultural heritage.
When secular & liberal activists were calling for a boycott of fireworks last time because they thought fireworks were never part of our culture, we had an extensive analysis & discussion on the topic of fireworks and whether they were part of Indian culture and finally concluded that it has indeed been a part of our culture .
Here is the analysis on “Whether Fireworks were part of Indian Culture”:

So, Diwali & fireworks being an integral part of our culture, it is nice to see youngsters circulating such a picture which they can connect themselves to, and which they think apparently depicts the colors of Diwali and the spirit of Indian culture. 
However, false information cannot be peddled forever and there is a need apply brakes at some point in time to scrutinize & acknowledge the truth, and the truth is that the image is neither specific to Diwali, and nor are the colors due to fireworks.

It is a scientific image which is an amalgamation of several satellite images of the night lights of India, with the final result implemented using color coding to represent the growth of electrification, infrastructure & economy in different regions/states of India. However, this in no way undermines the zeal of the masses, spirit of Diwali & the strength of our Unity.

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