NASA is investigating weird 'flashes' seen all over our planet from space

Joan Terry
May 18, 2017

A NASA camera on NOAA's Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), launched in 2015, has caught hundreds of unusual flashes over the span of a year.

If the light wasn't reflecting off water on the Earth's surface, how about water in Earth's atmosphere?

DSCOVR is owned and operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

NASA's DSCOVR, launched in 2015, has been keeping the scientists busy in deciphering the flashes. The instrument takes images nearly hourly of Earth from a location between Earth and the sun, NASA said on Monday.

To prove this, the scientists took an inventory of flashes that sparked up over land between June 2015 and August 2016.

The puzzle was solved by Alexander Marshak, DSCOVR deputy project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

In the course of a new investigation, researchers found that the bursts likely had a surprisingly small source – tiny, horizontal ice crystals floating high in the sky. It briefly turned its gaze to Earth and noticed light over Earth's oceans.

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Marshak first noticed light flashes occasionally appearing over oceans as he looked through daily EPIC images. If similar tests were carried out today, scientists say it would cause $600bn (£460bn) to $2.6tn in damages to the U.S. alone and would stall much of the internet taking down all satellite communications, and knocking out most of the global electricity grid.

"We were able to prove that little ice crystals in clouds were sending this light back millions of miles away, so that was quite surprising and exciting", said Alexander Kostinski, a Michigan Tech University professor of physics and co-author of this latest study.

When they were first spotted, scientists thought they were the sun reflecting off the sea. "But the glint is pretty big, so it wasn't that", Marshak said in a statement.

In 1990, when the Galileo satellite whipped around the Earth on its way to Jupiter, it caught sight of mysterious flashes of light coming from the surface of the Earth. Galileo launched in 1989, captured these unusual flashes of light in Earth's atmosphere, but researchers could not explain to them while en route to Jupiter and its moons. In other words, the satellite only detected the light when it was aligned with the sun's beams.

Marshak and his colleagues then began to think about where else water might exist in Earth's system - and thought of ice particles high in the atmosphere. This camera is taking these images from a spot which is between the Sun and the Earth. They could potentially be integrated into computer models of how much heat the Earth receives and sees leaving.

To confirm the cause of the flashes, the researchers made a collection of the prospective sunlight glints over land in images captured from EPIC.

Other reports by BadHub

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