National Geographic Daily 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.

56 comments
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"

Justin L.
Justin L.

"In South Korea, each person consumes 10,162 kilowatt hours of power a year. North Koreans each use just 739."  Chalk one up to N. Korea for being the forerunner in the fight for energy conservation...

Four Season News  .
Four Season News .

Under the control:distorted education,material ,food,,,, the North Koreans live somehow in the way we can not endure mentally and physically.I think the start point for us  is to get  proper informaion of how citizens live, but the nation is also informaionally isolated.

http://www.fourseasonnews.com/

JUDE LESPERANCE
JUDE LESPERANCE

Why do we have to go there and intervene while we have so many problems at home ? The last time I check, The US has more than 50 million people on food stand, and millions of others in the Unemployment line. So, we'd rather help 25 millions North Koreans than helping ourselves ?

Syuhei Iguro
Syuhei Iguro

Under the control:distorted education,material ,food,,,, the North Koreans live somehow in the way we can not endure mentally and physically.I think the start point for us  is to get  proper informaion of how citizens live, but the nation is also informaionally isolated.

The family dictatorship should be gabolished.  

Johnny Ninh
Johnny Ninh

@@Tom Mariner I have been living in South Korea for a while. Even in your scenario North still plays propaganda that the rest of the world is evil and this has been instilled for 50 years almost two generations. South Korea has been trying to open relations for a while but things fall apart because let's face it they are kind of crazy in the Northern government.

You are misjudging. What does promising a car have to do with anything? This country mainly utilizes environmentally green public transportation. They have to import oil here so offering any of that be irrelevant. Instead the South has offered jobs in manufacturing and aid and yes the North does have cellphone towers. But in the end to plan to take out one of the world's largest standing army without disrupting the entire Asian economy and the vacuum that would ensue afterwards is a monumental task in which US would be effected as well as Asian markets are big consumers on American goods. The South is getting advance, but it is still developing and there is a huge gap between generations due to the history of struggle. It is not one country but two separate entities all together. The question lies will China stand for taking out the North as well because they are their closest ally. 


So should the US go invade Mexico because of their narcotics and human trafficking problems that spill over to the US? Then afterwards promise every Mexican a Ford and cellphone? US is the most technologically advance country in the world as well. Why doesn't the US go help legal American immigrants get their family members to cross over the no man's land of the US Mexican Border. Can we blame US for the drug problems and brutality of the the Mexican state then right? Not as simple as it seems is it.

Tom Mariner
Tom Mariner

What a disaster this brutal dictator family has been for those poor people. Actually, I blame the South Koreans for letting this go on this long. They are among the most technically and consumer advanced in the world. Their relatives are across a no-man's land.


Why don't they just promise every family in North Korea a new KiA or Hyundai, promise to set up cellular towers, electric plants, gas stations, etc. if they just help the Kim Jong Idiot have an accident and do an East Germany.

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. 

Dan Friedman
Dan Friedman

@Justin L. Are you serious? It's dark because they don't have the infrastructure or the means to adequately power their country. With your thinking, they're also the forerunner on food conservation since hundreds of thousands of them die from hunger each year. Get a clue before making idiotic comments..

Adrian Ho
Adrian Ho

@JUDE LESPERANCE  We aren't intervening, we're tolerating a fascist state which murders and imprisons and starves its citizens and has a personality cult for the "Dear Leader" which puts Stalin, Mao, and Hitler to shame. Our 50 million on food stamps is sad and bad, but the situation in N. Korea is, oh I don't know--maybe 110 times worse? So there's your answer.

Todd Brown
Todd Brown

@JUDE LESPERANCE it is most likely that none of the 50 million Americans on SNAP would use a nuclear weapon or launch a missile at the US or another country.  As long as North Korea is a threat, albeit a small threat, they need to be watched.  At some point it would be nice to have a more rational if not outright friendly government in place there.  Please note we have not taken military action, just sacntions against the North.

For the people it is a shame because the North has all the resources, minerals and hydro power potential. With the resources of the North and the industry of the South, the Koreas could rival Japan.

Zhenchuan Jean-Charles Tan
Zhenchuan Jean-Charles Tan

@Tom Mariner  I would say part of the people living in North Korea are kind of living in a "panopticism" country. They are limited by the fear that they don't know when they are being watched. And on the other hand the propaganda of nationalism has been lasted for many years so that they believe in it and can't make themselves to go against it. As a Chinese I would say it was the same in China when I was still a child. Since primary school, nearly every single text of my Chinese course hand book is trying to praise our leader and the party. And we had to "love" the party rather than loving the culture. My parents once told me, "fortunately, the leader Mao Ze Dong died quite early. If not, we wouldn't know how long should we be suffering starvation and we would never know when would the end of this be." All what they did are for the power they are owning. 

Tine Laur
Tine Laur

@Tom Mariner

You know there is no East-Germany anymore? And Eas-germany was exactly what North-Korea is right now? It called by the way DDR. You really should read some history. That is just embarrassing.

Adrian Ho
Adrian Ho

@Tom Mariner  There's a lot of propaganda and decades of fear to overcome. Still, I understand your point that the S. Koreans should be very, very actively preparing for the beautiful day when they will allow the poor b***** in the north to join them as Koreans. 


I hope they're clever about planning this transition. They do have the German example. It will be harder than that re-unification. 


Antoine Goblot
Antoine Goblot

@Tom Mariner  Because they "adore" their leader. That's how they've been educated and that's probably the only thing most of them believe in. They wouldn't do anything against him.

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.

Daan Meurs
Daan Meurs

@Dan Friedman


That joke went way over your head didn't it?

M. Jordan
M. Jordan

@Tine Laur @Tom Mariner  Your use of the English language isn't bad, but needs a better understanding. The result is that your conclusions are somewhat misguided. (It's all too common in all languages — people have a tendency to not read everything clearly before commenting.)


What he wrote was "... just help the Kim Jong Idiot have an accident and do an East Germany." He did NOT write that East Germany still existed. (Your spelling of "Eas-germany" is incorrect: it's not hyphenated and "Germany" should be capitalized, as should the name of any country. The missing "t" is easily forgiven as a typographical error.)


I cannot agree with Tom's comment about blaming South Korea. He should become more aware of the history of the region, of their conflict and the nations that back either side, using Korea as a battleground for a purely political agenda. The "fault" was about a political party attempting regional domination.


East Germany was not the way North Korea is now. The people were not raised to praise and adore their leader(s). On the contrary, they had a long cultural memory, passed-on through generations and knew very well the differences between fair treatment and oppression and that oppression was not the way it should be. It was the people that brought down that government when the time was right.


"East Germany" is the name that English-speakers use to refer to that former country. DDR is the abbreviation of"Deutsche Demokratische Republik", which is the name that East Germany called itself... in the German language. That country no longer exists.


While you tried to correct Tom Mariner for not using "DDR", you did not correct anyone for referring to North Korea in English rather than refer to the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" (DPRK) in their own language (Chosŏn'gŭl조선민주주의인민공화국Chosŏn Minjujuŭi Inmin Konghwaguk).


The embarrassment is all yours.

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