US space agency NASA has reportedly identified the source of mysterious flashes erupting from Earth and that were spotted in satellite images. The images showed a ‘pale blue dot’ shining like a diamond as seen from space.
NASA scientists may have solved the mystery behind the light flashes that were captured by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR, a satellite launched in 2015 to study Earth and space weather.
It was observed that the flashes of light took place hundreds of times over a period of one year. Well now, NASA scientists claimed to have decoded the mystery saying it might by the flecks of high-flying ice crystals in the atmosphere sparkling in the sun.
Who spotted the light flashes?
DSCOVR satellite’s camera has been clicking pictures every hour since 2015 from its spot located between the Earth and the Sun. When these images were skimmed, Alexander Marshak, DSCOVR deputy project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, first noticed these dazzling lights over the oceans.
However, it was later revealed that Marshak wasn’t the first one to observe the flash lights. In 1993, it was astronomer Carl Sagan, who first spotted the sparkling lights when the Galileo spacecraft was studying Jupiter, but briefly turned its lens towards the Earth.
Sagan and his colleagues noticed the anomaly while reviewing these Earth images.
"Large expanses of blue ocean and apparent coastlines are present, and close examination of the images shows a region of [mirror-like] reflection in ocean but not on land," Sagan and his colleagues wrote in their study, which was published in Nature in 1993.
Marshak said the flash lights take place when sunlight comes in contact with smooth patches in the ocean. With this, the light reflects directly back into space, hitting the camera head-on. In such a scenario, the ocean acts just like a flashbulb in front of the camera.
However, the Galileo’s images showed many of the flashes apparently occurring over land, Marshak and his colleagues noticed.
"We found quite a few very bright flashes over land as well," Marshak said in the statement. "When I first saw it, I thought maybe there was some water there, or a lake the sun reflects off of. But the glint is pretty big, so it wasn't that."
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How the mystery was decoded?
The team looked for hidden sources of water to explain the phenomenon. One possibility was ice crystals floating high in the atmosphere. In order to test this possibility, the team first took an inventory of all the sun glints that occurred over land in the modern satellite images. Overall, the bursts took place 866 times.
To explain the phenomenon, the team looked for hidden sources of water to explain the sun glint. One possibility: ice crystals floating high in the atmosphere. To test this idea, the team first took an inventory of all the sun glints occurring over land in the modern satellite images. Overall, the bursts occurred 866 times.
Going by the physics of reflection of light, only certain sports on Earth should produce such reflections, they said. When the angle between Earth and the Sun is equal to the angle between Earth and the satellite camera, the light from the ice crystals bounces directly onto the camera and produce bright glints.
The researchers reported in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that the flashes took place only at times and locations on Earth where these angles matched.
Next, the observed the angle of light to show that these flashes took place when light reflected off horizontally aligned ice crystals. Finally, the researchers showed that the light wasn’t probably erupting from Earth.
"The source of the flashes is definitely not on the ground. It's definitely ice, and most likely solar reflection off of horizontally oriented particles," Marshak said.