06/12/2012 04:07 GMT | Updated 04/02/2013 05:12 GMT

Nasa Unveils 'Black Marble' Photos Of The Earth At Night (PICTURES)

Nasa has unveiled the highest-quality images ever taken of the Earth at night.

The so-called 'Black Marble' photographs offer an "unprecedented new look at our planet", Nasa said.

The images are composites taken from a new NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite.

The pictures "show the glow of natural and human-built phenomena across the planet in greater detail than ever before", the agency added.

The new sensor aboard the Nasa/NOAA craft is sensitive enough to detect the light from a single ship in the sea at night.

Nasa explained:

Satellites in the U.S. Defense Meteorological Satellite Program have been making observations with low-light sensors for 40 years. But the VIIRS day-night band can better detect and resolve Earth's night lights.

The new, higher resolution composite image of Earth at night was released at a news conference at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. This and other VIIRS day-night band images are providing researchers with valuable data for a wide variety of previously unseen or poorly seen events.