Geographers like night images of cities because you see immediately so much about the human landscape—things that are difficult or impossible to see in day images. You see where the cities are located and their shape; the brightest light clusters frequently indicate the city centers. In images with a large field of view, you can also see the position and size of cities relative to one another.
In this photograph taken by an astronaut on the International Space Station (ISS), the largest cluster of lights is the conurbation (“joined cities”) of Dubai-Sharjah-Ajman, with its smaller neighbor Abu Dhabi. These cities of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) front onto the Persian Gulf (also known as the Arabian Gulf), and the lights cut off abruptly at the coastline. The bright city centers are located at the coast, indicating that sea trade has been important to the growth of these cities.
Smaller cities include Al Ain, the fourth largest in the UAE, and Fujairah. Major highways join the cities in a brightly lit network, and a faint peppering of lights offshore shows the oil and gas platforms on either side of the Musandam Peninsula. (Note that the view is rotated so that north is to the left.)
Even at night, the spike of the Musandam Peninsula is easy to pick out from the south end of the Persian Gulf. The biggest cities in the UAE are Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Muscat, the capital city of neighboring Oman, appears at image top center. By contrast, the almost unpopulated Musandam Peninsula shows very few lights.
Time-lapse images were compiled in 2012 into continuous videos to show what the planet looks like at night as you fly past, although the sense of speed is unrealistically fast. With the same southeast look direction as this view, the UAE comes into view at the beginning of this night sequence (click for video link). Persian Gulf lights come into view half way through another time-lapse sequence here, with the Musandam Peninsula recognizable on the right margin.
Astronaut photograph ISS038-E-16335 was acquired on December 11, 2013, with a Nikon D3S digital camera using an 85 millimeter lens, 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 38 crew. It has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. 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 M. Justin Wilkinson, Jacobs at NASA-JSC.