The Museum of Hoaxes
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The Great Blackout of 2003
On August 14, 2003, a blackout hit the northeastern United States. Almost the next day a photo began circulating online claiming to be a NASA satellite image of the event. The entire United States could be seen, with dots of light revealing major population centers -- except for the northeastern corner of the country, which was covered in inky blackness.

The picture was a hoax. It was an altered detail from an image that had appeared on NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day website on November 27, 2000 (and again on August 10, 2002). The original image, titled "Earth at Night," was a composite made by combining hundreds of photos taken by Defense Department meteorological satellites in order to show what the entire surface of the Earth at night would look like from space. The hoaxer had simply cropped the photo to show only the United States (middle) and then had darkened the relevant portion to simulate a blackout.

In reality, the blackout did not create such a total zone of darkness. Actual satellite images taken during the blackout by NOAA satellites (bottom) show many areas, such as Boston, where the lights were still on.
Links and References
Astronomy Picture of the Day, November 27, 2000.
Earth's City Lights, NASA.

All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.