NASA's new NPP—or NPOESS Preparatory Project—satellite travels in a sun-synchronous orbit. So as it photographs the planet, each photo is taken at the same time ensuring that all the images have similar lighting.
It's slowly being brought online and powered up, but this is officially the first complete photo of Earth its Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument took on November 24, 2011. And if you're wondering why the arctic is MIA, it's simply because during the Winter it's too dark to see in visible light.
The VIIRS camera captures images of the planet in long swaths measuring 1,900 miles across, from a vantage point 512 miles above our heads. In addition to the visible spectrum, the satellite will measure 22 different wavelengths of light once all of its sensors and detectors are fully operational. Letting it collect climate and weather data on everything from the temperature of the ocean and clouds, to the location of forest fires. And it's sure to produce even more spectacular eye candy like this in the future. [NASA via Space]
Update: NASA reached out to us with a correction. VIIRS actually refers to one of the instruments on their new NPP—or NPOESS Preparatory Project—satellite, not the satellite itself.