National Geographic News
A photo of North Korea from space.

This night image of the Korean Peninsula shows that North Korea is almost completely dark compared to neighboring South Korea and China.

PHOTOGRAPH BY EARTH SCIENCE & REMOTE SENSING UNITY, NASA JOHNSON SPACE CENTER

Daniel Stone

National Geographic

Published February 26, 2014

Since the mid-1990s, when fuel stopped flowing from the defunct Soviet Union to North Korea, the famously hermetic country has descended into darkness.

Newly released photos taken from the International Space Station last month reveal just how energy bankrupt North Korea has become. The photos, and a time-lapse video of the region, show the country as almost completely black, in contrast to the bright lights of neighbors like South Korea and Japan. (See related, "North Korea: Nuclear Ambition, Power Shortage.")

In South Korea, each person consumes 10,162 kilowatt hours of power a year. North Koreans each use just 739. Other than several small spots of light, including the brightly illuminated capital of Pyongyang, the country just about blends in with the surrounding black ocean.


Satellites have traditionally been the best tools for observing North Korea; they capture detailed views from far beyond sealed borders. Starting in 1948 with Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of the current North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un, the country has shunned most of the world.

The North Korean government has refused offers of food and energy aid in exchange for a commitment to curtailing its nuclear energy ambitions. International inspectors have been denied entry, which has resulted in increasingly harsh sanctions led in large part by the United States and South Korea. China remains the staunchest of the north's few allies.

In her 2009 book Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, Barbara Demick described the effect darkness has on culture.

Streets become too dark for people to walk, limiting social interactions outside of daytime work hours. No one can watch TV or consume the limited amount of media allowed by the government.

Still, some parts of North Korea never go dark. Several government buildings, as well as Kim Jong Un's personal palace, stay lit at all times. Also illuminated around the clock: the famous 560-foot (171-meter) Juche Tower at the center of Pyongyang. It stands as a lonely symbol of nationalism and self-reliance, whatever the cost.

76 comments
charles  spears
charles spears

the truth is Truman fired Douglas Mcgarter this is the results when he went over the north Korean lines and into china haaa you all funny ppl

John FiveEagles Szuros
John FiveEagles Szuros

Looks like North Korea will become a hot spot for astronomers. I know that I would go there to do research if I could. Looks almost idealic. But the reality remains...they are a failed state. they cannot provide for their people when consumption of energy is tied to quality and quantity of life- they have nothing...sad.

Julie Fox
Julie Fox

Because they have no oil,diamonds,or gold. Our so called civilized society do nothing to help the people of North Korea.We should be ashamed .

Gopal Krishan
Gopal Krishan

Extremely sad to see such as effect on the innocent people of north korea - Decision makers will be enjoying 24 hr power supply where as common people get nothing - Its just EGO

matt k
matt k

forced darkness isn't the same as choosing darkness just saying they have no choice in the matter for good reason.

Jason Halfpenny
Jason Halfpenny

Some of you people need to really get out and get a life, nothing North Korea's doing is admirable or right. They're not saving energy for any other reason than ignorance, arrogance and stubbornness, they shun the outside world's help and would rather put their own countrymen and women, their neighbours and the world even, at risk by messing around with something they shouldn't. All North Korea want is power, nuclear weapons and at what cost?, give me facts. Are North Korea's children benefiting from this ignorance and arrogance?

Chudamani Akavaram
Chudamani Akavaram

Streets lit in darkness or the darkness which pervades the streets may not reflect freedom of choice of the people. If the fact is dictated by the political reasons, it makes all the difference . Hope the minds of the people living in North Korea are lit by desire for freedom and enlightenment of all kinds-political, social and spiritual.

D Ram
D Ram

I think the whole world should be bathed in darkness during the night... This whole lights on during the nighttime business is unnatural and making it impossible to see the starry night sky. North Korea is doing it right

Daniel Rolan
Daniel Rolan

Perhaps more of the world will be bathed in this surreal darkness in the future, as we face energy shortages, resource wars and greater conflict over access to the remaining energy, water and food growing land of the Earth. These are called "The Great Waves of Change" by prophetic writer Marshall Vian Summers. You can read his expose of these "great waves" at: http://www.greatwavesofchange.org

병인 서
병인 서

B. Suh Change the Japanese 'Sea of Japan' into the Korean 'East Sea'! 

Maria Berenice Molina Law
Maria Berenice Molina Law

Strange things in the world or for good or for bad, the truth is that are very different or perhaps Making headlines good ...... And Be first page the next day, you can not question things that do not beam seen in person .....

Maria Berenice Molina Law
Maria Berenice Molina Law

Las cosas extrañas del mundo o para bien o para mal, lo cierto es que son muy distintas o tal vez para hacer buenos titulares noticiosos...... Y ser primera página al día siguiente, no se puede cuestionar las cosas que aún no haz podido ver en persona..... 


Strange things in the world or for good or for bad, the truth is that are very different or perhaps Making headlines good ...... And Be first page the next day, you can not question things that do not beam seen in person .....

Maria Berenice Molina Law
Maria Berenice Molina Law

Las cosas extrañas del mundo o para bien o para mal, lo cierto es que son muy distintas o tal vez para hacer buenos titulares noticiosos...... Y ser primera página al día siguiente, no se puede cuestionar las cosas que aún no haz podido ver en persona.....

Jan de Jager
Jan de Jager

Eindelijk een land dat onvrijwillig mee doet aan het tegengaan van de opwarming van de aarde! 

Isa Sharif
Isa Sharif

A place as dark as that must be a great place to watch the sky.
I bet they can see more than the 20 stars I can see in the night sky.

Zhenchuan Jean-Charles Tan
Zhenchuan Jean-Charles Tan

Actually I would say such report could somehow mislead people. I would like to have a visit in North Korea myself one day rather than judging it by reading reports. 

james rosario
james rosario

I would have expected National Geographic Society to have a more balanced reporting.

John Wignell
John Wignell

well at least they not killing the planet

Rocco Yiu
Rocco Yiu

If we can go "green" by turning off some lights. Doesn't it make North Korea the "greenest" country on Earth? ...just wondering...

Grace Shin
Grace Shin

not sea of japan!!! The east sea. 

End it, or Mend it!!!!

Hyosun Kim
Hyosun Kim

Omg. I need to correct a wrong information on that map. It's "the East Sea", not "the Sea of Japan"

Noble Lox
Noble Lox

@Julie Fox So, Julie, you being a socioeconomic, political and military expert on the country, tell us how we can help the people of a nuclear armed and highly militarised state?

John FiveEagles Szuros
John FiveEagles Szuros

@Jason Halfpenny Dude you are right. We have to stop candy coating the reality. Precisely that- power. Political, spiritual, psychological, energy, nuclear, nightmares. Why don't we send the SAS in with a Ghillie troop and .50 cal. rifle. I know that sounds ridiculous, but sometimes it serves well to get rid of the extreme elements unless their position, which in chess is only a clue to strategy not the game itself, and they want to maintain that status quo.

Lenda Sparks
Lenda Sparks

@Rocco Yiu                     You are so right .I look for anything positive. I'm often surprised and happier for it .Let's start greening our politics and maybe we'll be in the dark too!

Dave Reade
Dave Reade

@Hyosun Kim  The entire world calls it the "Sea of Japan". Quit whining and get over it. 

Tim Cavey
Tim Cavey

@Dave Reade @Hyosun Kim

Yep. It was agreed that it is "The Sea Of Japan" in 2012. They will re-open the discussion in 2017. So people should shut up until then.

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