Science

NASA solves flashing light from Earth mystery


Sun glints off atmospheric ice crystals (circled in red) in this view captured by NASA's EPIC instrument on NOAA's DISCOVR satellite. (Photo: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center)
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NASA researchers say mysterious flashes of light erupting from Earth have an explanation rooted not in the supernatural, but in science.

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

Alexander Marshak, DSCOVR deputy project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said in a statement he first noticed the strange flashes appearing over oceans as he was examining images from the camera.

Marshak and a team of researchers discovered that similar reflections were noticed over the ocean in 1993. Marshak said flashes of light reflected off the ocean could be easily explained as sun reflecting off the ocean, but the researchers noticed flashes in areas where there was no water.

“We found quite a few very bright flashes over land as well,” he said. “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.”

According to NASA, researchers found 866 bursts of light between DSCOVR’S launch in June 2015 and August 2016. The researchers believed if the flashes were caused by sunlight, they would be limited to certain spots where the angle between the sun and Earth is the same as that between the spacecraft and Earth, thus allowing the spacecraft to pick up reflected light, NASA said in a statement.

When the researchers plotted out their theory, the points matched.

NASA researchers said a statement that the source of the lights is a reflection from high-altitude, horizontally oriented ice crystals.

“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. Source: usatoday.com

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