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For 1st time, NASA uses Black Marble tech in disaster response—the images of Puerto Rico are amazing

For the first time ever, NASA used its Black Marble technology to aid in disaster response. The image shows electric activity before and after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico.
Image courtesy NASA’s Earth Observatory

NASA scientists are working overtime to develop data products that help first responders in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria left the U.S. territory ravaged on Wednesday, Sept. 20.

When the storm barreled over the island, it took out much of Puerto Rico's electrical grid. Now, for the first time ever, NASA is using its Black Marble HD satellite technology to create composite images showing power outages, like the one embedded above. Black Marble HD allows NASA to see lights on Earth at night.

Scientists are working "long days" to get the satellite images to groups including the National Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) so they can deploy resources exactly where they are needed, according to NASA.

"It is critical that we get this processing done quickly, so that we can provide the cleanest and most useful imagery," says Miguel Román, the scientist in charge of the effort from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, in a statement.

NASA images of Puerto Rico full country before and after Maria

Image courtesy NASA's Earth Observatory

The raw satellite imagery has been "processed and corrected" by NASA scientists to remove non-electrical light (like from the moon or fires) and "atmospheric interference" (like dust and clouds), the statement says.

The Black Marble maps are still considered "experimental," according to NASA. "Moving forward, we will continue to test this new technology," says Román in an email with CNBC Make It.

Other NASA satellite technology has also provided "some of the first" color images of Puerto Rico after the storm. The images below, the first taken on September 26, 2017, and the second, taken exactly one year earlier for comparison, helped FEMA assess damage.

NASA image of flooding in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria
NASA image of Puerto Rico before Hurricane Maria

Images courtesy NASA's Earth Observatory

Composite NASA satellite imagery also tracked rainfall during the three days preceding and up to when Hurricane Maria hit. The brighter the color on the map, the more rainfall. The image below is the result of a the Global Precipitation Measurement effort — a partnership among NASA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and five national and international partners, according to NASA.

NASA image of rain over Puerto Rico during Hurricane Maria

Images courtesy NASA's Earth Observatory

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