VIIRS essentially ups the visible light imaging from 5 square kilometers of the older-generation sensor to 742 square meters. The sensor is also able to break out different wavelengths, which is what enables it to distinguish fires, flares and from electric lights, for instance.
The scientists were surprised by some of the things they discovered using VIIRS, like something called "night glow," which is the glow of the upper atmosphere that can illuminate clouds and ice well enough to see detailed visible light features at night even better than in infrared.
"We discovered by accident that the sensor can take advantage of this," said Miller.
In the past, low light imaging has been used to forecast weather, and VIIRS promises to advance those other areas of study much further, Miller said. Those fields of study include the effects of night lighting on wildlife, human health, monitoring black outs, volcanoes, fishing, and wildfires.