HOUSTON (CBS) – NASA is painting a brighter picture of how Earth is populated by releasing new images of the planet at night.

Scientists say these maps, generated by satellites on moonlight-free nights, are “providing the clearest yet composite view of the patterns of human settlement.”

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The Earth at night in 2016 (Image credits: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

They’re not just nice to look at. NASA believes there are plenty of benefits to nighttime photography from space, including tracking power outages after major storms, monitoring unregulated fishing and looking at ways to reduce light pollution.

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The Northeast at night in 2016. (Image Credits: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

“A team at the United Nations has already used night lights data to monitor the effects of war on electric power and the movement of displaced populations in war-torn Syria,” NASA notes.

The Nile River at night (Image Credits: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

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The space agency makes new maps of night lights about every decade.