19 impossible views of Earth from space at night

Nothing makes me feel more connected to the rest of the human race than seeing the Earth from space at night.

National borders vanish, and rivers of light unite our 21st-century towns and cities into a single glowing tapestry.

Just look at this incredible view of Europe, sparkling with artificial light:

Er, wait a minute.

If you’ve seen enough images of Earth from space at night, or you care to look closely enough, this image looks… funny.

And yet it has been shared all over the internet as a legitimate NASA photograph.

Compare it to this photograph of the Iberian Peninsula, taken by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station in July 2014:

As it turns out, the first — and arguably more breathtaking — image is actually a computer rendering created by Russian graphic artist Anton Balazh (Антон Балаж).

Scroll to see more of Balazh’s mind-boggling views of Earth and learn how he pulled them off.

It may be hard to believe, but this is not a real image of Earth from space at night.

Anton Balazh/Shutterstock
Europe and northern Africa.

Yes, this is northern Europe. But no, it is not a photo.

Anton Balazh/Shutterstock

Nope, not the real United Kingdom.

Anton Balazh/Shutterstock
Northern Europe.

They're computer renderings created by Anton Balazh, a graphic artist who lives in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Anton Balazh/Shutterstock
The Middle East and northeast Africa.

Balazh liked working with 3D programs, he tells Tech Insider, and thought a model of Earth would be fun to make.

Anton Balazh/Shutterstock
The Arabian Peninsula and eastern Africa.

So he did, but it wasn't an overnight project.

Anton Balazh/Shutterstock
Southeast Asia.

Balazh spent 'several years gradually complicating the model,' he says.

Anton Balazh/Shutterstock
Japan and eastern Asia.

For realism he downloaded countless gigabytes of real satellite images from NASA's Visible Earth catalogues.

Anton Balazh/Shutterstock
India and Sri Lanka.

Source: NASA Visible Earth

Then spliced in bathymetry data for a realistic-looking ocean floor...

Anton Balazh/Shutterstock

...And sea level data for accurate coastlines.

Anton Balazh/Shutterstock
East Australia.

And, using NASA-based topography data, lifted up mountain ranges that would normally look flat from space.

Anton Balazh/Shutterstock
The tip of South America.

He also layered in city light data collected by the Suomi NPP satellite, which orbits the Earth.

Anton Balazh/Shutterstock

Source: NASA Visible Earth

A series of images like the collection here takes Balazh a month to prepare.

Anton Balazh/Shutterstock
Northwest South America.

'There are many different tweaks' to polish a shot, he says: amping up city lights, raising mountains, or casting artificial moonlight in just the right way.

Anton Balazh/Shutterstock
Central America.

Each image has about '20-30 million polygons' to form realistic 3D terrain.

Anton Balazh/Shutterstock

And the 5,000-by-5,000-pixel files would take dozens of mobile phones to display at full resolution.

Anton Balazh/Shutterstock
The American West.

'Rendering a single image takes ... tens of hours on a multi-core computer with 32 GB of RAM,' he says.

Anton Balazh/Shutterstock
The American Midwest.

Balazh sells his images to stock image services, which he says 'sell well every day.'

Anton Balazh/Shutterstock
Southeast United States.

His model of Earth pulls in enough money for him to take vacations...

Anton Balazh/Shutterstock

...And enjoy all that the real Earth has to offer.

Anton Balazh/Shutterstock

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