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Houston, Texas at Night
This page contains archived content and is no longer being updated. At the time of publication, it represented the best available science. However, more recent observations and studies may have rendered some content obsolete.
Houston, Texas, has been called the “energy capital of the
world” due to its role as a major hub of the petroleum and other
energy resource industries. The Houston metropolitan area covers almost
2,331,000 hectares (9,000 square miles) along the
southeast Texas coastline, with an average elevation of 13 meters
(43 feet) above sea level and a population of over 5
million (2006 US Census estimate).
The Houston metropolitan area is also
noteworthy as being the largest in the United States without formal
zoning restrictions on where and how people can build. This freedom has led to a highly diverse pattern of land
use at the neighborhood scale; nevertheless, more general spatial
patterns of land use can be recognized in remotely sensed data. These general patterns are particularly evident in nighttime photography of the urban area taken by
astronauts on board the International Space Station.
The image depicts the roughly 100-kilometer (60-mile) east-west
extent of the Houston metropolitan area. Houston proper is at image
center, indicated by a “bull’s-eye” of elliptical
white- to orange-lighted beltways and brightly lit white freeways
radiating outwards from the central downtown area. Suburban and
primarily residential urban areas are indicated by both
reddish-brown and gray-green lighted regions, which indicate a higher
proportion of tree cover and lower light density.
along the Houston
Ship Channel are identified by densely lit areas of golden yellow
light. Rural and undeveloped land rings the metropolitan area, and
Galveston Bay to the southeast (image lower right) provides access to
the Gulf of Mexico. Both types of non-urban surface appear dark in the
You can see more nighttime imagery of cities and learn about
techniques that astronauts use to photograph them in the Earth
Observatory feature Cities
Astronaut photograph ISS022-E-78463
was acquired on February 28, 2010, with a Nikon D3 digital camera and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations
experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space
Center. The image was taken by the Expedition
22 crew. The image in this article has been cropped and enhanced to
improve contrast. The International
Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS
National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be
of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those
images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by
astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of
Earth. Caption by William L. Stefanov, NASA-JSC.
Taken on February 28, 2010, this astronaut photograph shows Houston at
night. Different land uses appear at varying levels of brightness, with bright lights in Houston proper, and no lights in undeveloped areas.