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NASA images from space show North Korea shrouded in darkness

Where did North Korea go? Pyongyang looks like a tiny island in a sea of darkness in recent photos captured by NASA .

Story highlights

  • Images taken from space at night show North Korea as a black spot
  • Lights from cities and infrastructure flicker across other East Asian nations
  • NASA says lights at nighttime illustrate a city's "relative economic importance"

Give an astronaut on the International Space Station a digital camera and you're bound to end up with some astounding images -- especially if they're flying above North Korea.

When the space station passed over East Asia one night recently, a member of NASA's Expedition 38 crew took a series of photographs that show just how off-the-grid the Hermit Kingdom really is.

While thriving cities and major roads are seen glowing across South Korea and China, the landscape between the two countries is so dark that it's difficult to tell where the sea ends and North Korea begins.

Pyongyang "appears like a small island," says NASA, noting that the light emission from the North Korean capital is equivalent to the smaller towns of its neighbor to the south.

The space agency, which turned the images into a timelapse video, says city lights at night are a good indicator of the relative affluence of cities.

Looking at the images, it's hardly a surprise that energy use is dramatically different on either side of the 38th parallel. In South Korea, per capita power consumption is 10,162 kilowatt hours while in North Korea the figure is 739 kilowatt hours, according to World Bank data.

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