Light like those are not really very visible from space. It's more of a dramatic representation to show heavy urban concentration and sprawl. Most the data from those lights come from the Thermal band of various multispectral satellites in orbit (probably Landsat 7, it's cheap and gets more coverage than all the others.)
Ah, well, I could get nitpicky, but its a good bit better than almost anything else I have seen. This Geographer's eyes lit up when a real attempt at a realistic planet was made =)
Thanks, guys. There are icecaps - it's just that they seem to fade against the clouds - makes 'em hard to see.
Anyhow, I've got everything linked up - and I'm now able to randomize the planet's surface.
Here're some samples!
Hehehe. When I saw that first shot, I thought - hey, that cloud looks just like Florida, is he using the Earth as a cloudmap? Nah, I figured, that would be too cheap. But now I see that on one of your latest shots, you can clearly recognise the Arabian Peninsula, the Persian Gulf, the coast of India... heck, you can even make out Australia down in the corner .
On the second ice planet shot, the clouds on the upper half look somewhat blurrier than on the other planet, like the bump mapping is off from the opacity map...? Or maybe it's the clouds' shadows that are tricking me?