Night-time view of Houston, Texas, from space

Houston, Texas, seen at night from space

Houston, Texas, seen at night from space

Houston, Texas, has been called the “energy capital of the world” due to its role as a major hub of the petroleum and other energy resource industries. The Houston metropolitan area covers almost 2,331,000 hectares (9,000 square miles) along the southeast Texas coastline, with an average elevation of 13 meters (43 feet) above sea level and a population of over 5 million (2006 US Census estimate).

The Houston metropolitan area is also noteworthy as being the largest in the United States without formal zoning restrictions on where and how people can build. This freedom has led to a highly diverse pattern of land use at the neighbourhood scale; nevertheless, more general spatial patterns of land use can be recognized in remotely sensed data. These general patterns are particularly evident in nighttime photography of the urban area taken by astronauts on board the International Space Station.

The image depicts the roughly 100-kilometre (60-mile) east-west extent of the Houston metropolitan area. Houston proper is at image centre, indicated by a “bull’s-eye” of elliptical white- to orange-lighted beltways and brightly lit white freeways radiating outwards from the central downtown area. Suburban and primarily residential urban areas are indicated by both reddish-brown and grey-green lighted regions, which indicate a higher proportion of tree cover and lower light density.

Petroleum refineries along the Houston Ship Channel are identified by densely lit areas of golden yellow light. Rural and undeveloped land rings the metropolitan area, and Galveston Bay to the southeast (image lower right) provides access to the Gulf of Mexico. Both types of non-urban surface appear dark in the image.

Astronaut photograph provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Centre. Text by William L. Stefanov, NASA-JSC.

Filed Under: Earth from Space

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