TECH
06/11/2018 5:56 PM IST | Updated 06/11/2018 5:56 PM IST

This Famous Picture Of India From Space On Diwali Is Fake—Please Stop Forwarding It?

This famous image is a composite created over multiple years, and not on Diwali. It was made to display population growth in India.

This photo, which is routinely circulated on Diwali, is described as a picture of India from space taken by NASA during the festival of lights. It's probably been shared millions of times, but it's actually a composite image, not a satellite photo on Diwali.
US Defense Meteorological Satellite Program
This photo, which is routinely circulated on Diwali, is described as a picture of India from space taken by NASA during the festival of lights. It's probably been shared millions of times, but it's actually a composite image, not a satellite photo on Diwali.

On Diwali, many people will be putting up lights and lighting candles and diyas in their homes. Even with some limitations, firecrackers will also light up the cities. It will all look pretty bright and so, when you get a WhatsApp forward with the above picture, claiming to be a satellite photo of India taken by NASA on Diwali, you might believe it. And you'll probably be tempted to hit the forward button as well so others can appreciate how beautiful it is.

But don't, because that photo is a fake. This shouldn't really need to be pointed out anymore after all these years, but going by our WhatsApp inboxes, that isn't the case. A little digging quickly shows that this picture is not, in fact, a satellite photo of India on Diwali, but rather, a composite image made with overflights from multiple years, which leads to the detailed light map you can see above.

This image was actually created by the US Defense Meteorological Satellite Program to show the growth of population over time, with the different colours showing when regions began registering a sharp increase in population, from 1992 to 2003.

This picture doesn't show India on Diwali either:

SCREENSHOT
Google's Me Too Rising visualisation shows all of India brightly lit up with people searching for information about the movement.

This photo comes from Google's brilliant visualisation of interest in the #MeToo movement, with lights placed to show where search interest was rising. All of India was awash in light a few weeks ago, and you can easily imagine this photo doing the rounds as well on Diwali.

So is there a real picture of India on Diwali? If you thought it was this photo, you're wrong again:

Paolo Nespoli/ ESA
A real satellite photo of India at night. Just not on Diwali.

Astronaut Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency tweeted a Happy Diwali message last year—the photo itself is actually from a little before Diwali, but the picture was put up on Diwali and a lot of people, even news publications, misunderstood and started saying 'here's the "real" Diwali satellite photo'.

Sorry but that's just how India looks at night when seen from space, which is pretty impressive in and of itself. If you've got to forward photos of India, why not send this one after all—even if it's not Diwali, it still looks beautiful.