Seasonal Glow

  • Released Thursday, January 9th, 2014
  • Updated Wednesday, May 3rd, 2023 at 1:51PM
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Scientists are now able to view the vitality of Earth’s terrestrial plant life with satellites orbiting hundreds of miles above the planet. The key lies in distinguishing the faint glow, or fluorescence, emitted by healthy plants when they convert sunlight to energy via photosynthesis. NASA researchers have detected the glow, invisible to the naked eye, with an instrument on a European meteorological satellite. Using data collected by the satellite from 2007 to 2011, they created a global map of the phenomenon that reveals how plant productivity changes through the seasons. Watch the video to see how different parts of the world brighten and dim over the course of an average year.

The northward march of fluorescence during spring in the northern hemisphere reflects thriving vegetation.

The northward march of fluorescence during spring in the northern hemisphere reflects thriving vegetation.

By fall in the northern hemisphere, fewer hours of sunlight slows photosynthesis and fluorescence wanes.

By fall in the northern hemisphere, fewer hours of sunlight slows photosynthesis and fluorescence wanes.

Photosynthesis—and thus fluorescence—is minimal during winter in the northern hemisphere.

Photosynthesis—and thus fluorescence—is minimal during winter in the northern hemisphere.


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Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center