NASA Satellite Camera records Flashes of Light From Earth


Click to enlarge — Sun glints off stmospheric ice crystals – circled in red

❝ One million miles from Earth, a NASA camera is capturing unexpected flashes of light reflecting off our planet. The homeward-facing instrument on NOAA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR, launched in 2015, caught hundreds of these flashes over the span of a year. As keen observers from outside NASA wrote in, questioning the source of these lights, scientists deciphered the tiny cause to the big reflections: high-altitude, horizontally oriented ice crystals…

Investigating the flashes, Alexander Marshak and his colleagues found that similar reflections from our pale blue dot caught the attention of astronomer Carl Sagan in 1993. Sagan was looking at images taken by the Galileo spacecraft, which launched in 1989 to study Jupiter and its moons. During one if its gravitational-assist swings around Earth, Galileo turned its instruments on this planet and collected data. Sagan and his colleagues used that to test a key question: Whether spacecraft could detect signatures of life from afar…

But when the scientists took another took a look at the Galileo images, they saw something Sagan and his colleagues apparently missed — bright flashes of light over land as well as over water. And those flashes appeared in the EPIC images as well. As the contact listed on the website that posts all EPIC images, Marshak started getting emails from people curious about what the flashes were.

❝ Instead, he and his colleagues Tamas Varnai of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and Alexander Kostinski of Michigan Technological University, thought of water elsewhere in the Earth system: ice particles high in the atmosphere. The scientists conducted a series of experiments, detailed in a new paper published in Geophysical Research Letters, to confirm the cause of the distant flashes…

Another feature of the EPIC data helped confirm that the flashes were from a high altitude, not simply water on the ground…”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.

Gotta love science. Though, I imagine any of the flavors of conspiracy nutball might have explanations more titillating than high altitude ice crystals.

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