The India-Pakistan border is so closely guarded that it can be seen from space

The line that divides.
The line that divides.
Image: An astronaut aboard the International Space Station.
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The border between India and Pakistan is one of the few international boundaries that can be easily identified from space.

Late last month, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) Earth Observatory shared a nighttime image of the international border that divides India and Pakistan.

Amid countless dots and some larger blobs of yellow, the border between the two countries can be seen as a distinct, brightly-lit orange line—thanks to the security lights that run the length of the boundary.

Nearly 2,000 kilometres, out of about 3,300 kilometres, of the India-Pakistan border is floodlit, according to Indian government officials, which racks up massive electricity and diesel bills.

The locations as seen from space.
The locations as seen from space.

One of the most heavily militarised international borders, the Radcliffe Line—the boundary demarcation line established during Partition in 1947—divides the two nuclear-armed nations. Both countries have thousands of troops stationed all along its length, especially in the disputed Jammu and Kashmir region. These troops are served by hundreds of kilometres of roads that run alongside the boundary.

The photograph was taken by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station, using a Nikon D4 digital camera and a 28-millimetre lens. ”For scale, the distance from Karachi to the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains is 1,160 kilometers (720 miles),” NASA’s Earth Observatory said.

But this is not NASA’s first photo of the international border.

Another night view of the border zone, “looking southeast from the Himalaya,” was taken four years ago, on Aug. 21, 2011. Again, the borderline appears as an orange line, flanked by a number of cities on both sides.

Another night image in which the border zone looks southeast from the Himalaya.
Another night image in which the border zone looks southeast from the Himalaya.

The top left cluster is New Delhi. The cluster next to the border on the other side is Lahore, while the cluster right at bottom centre is Islamabad. The photograph was taken with a Nikon D3S digital camera using a 16-milimetre lens.

“Clusters of yellow lights on the Indo-Gangetic Plain reveal numerous cities large and small in this astronaut photograph of northern India and northern Pakistan,” NASA said. “The lines of major highways connecting the cities also stand out. More subtle, but still visible at night, are the general outlines of the towering and partly cloud-covered Himalayas to the north.”

In comparison, daytime images of the region are less revealing. The following photograph of the region was clicked on June 14, 2014.

A daylight view shows the vegetated bends of the Indus Valley winding through the otherwise desert country.