Published: Fri, May 19, 2017
Science | By Cecil Little

Strange Light Flashes Spotted on Earth From Space Finally Explained

Strange Light Flashes Spotted on Earth From Space Finally Explained

From DSCOVR detecting flashes could provide more sunlight into how light reflects off. Earth's atmosphere and hope the heat is reaching and leaving the earth.

Over the course of one year, a spacecraft observing earth spotted hundreds of mysterious "flashes" reflecting off the surface of our planet.

And what impressive effects those blasts had: some of them destroyed the electronics on satellites (by 1961, less than four years after Russian Federation hoisted the first Sputnik, there were 115 satellites in orbit, so there was plenty of electronics up there).

Terrestrial glint is seen in this image from NASA DSCOVR. As the contact listed on the website that posts all EPIC images, Marshak started getting emails from people curious about what the flashes were.

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NASA/ Marshak et al (2017), Geophys. Res.

They observed two high-speed waves: the first traveled at 1,860 miles per second and the second, less than a fourth that speed. Astronomer Carl Sagan first spotted the reflections in 1993.

Down the road, a similar observational approach could potentially help scientists determine if distant exoplanets have the same sort of reflection, meaning the planets could have an atmosphere, and worth further inspection as a potential home for future generations of humankind. While reviewing these Earth images, Sagan and his colleagues noticed the anomaly. The ocean then works like a flashbulb in front of the camera.

And when the public started noticing and inquiring about what the flashes of light may be, they emailed Marshak, who was listed as the person of contact for questions regarding the EPIC camera images.

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As said by Alexander Marshak, DISCOVR's deputy scientist and the lead author of the new study, "The source of these enigmatic flashes is definitely not based on Earth". While initially it was thought to be glints reflecting off water bodies, when the same flashes began appearing over land masses, it left scientists confused.

A full view of the Earth with sun glint. Overall, the bursts occurred 866 times. If the flares were caused by reflected sunlight, they would have only been in certain spots where the angle between the Earth and the sun is the same as the angle between the satellite and the planet. Scientists are also figuring out if VLF can remove charged particles in the upper atmosphere during extreme space weather events. Planets don't give off a lot of light, which makes them hard to find out in space - but if ice particles like the ones in Earth's atmosphere are a common feature of planets, future telescopes could search for those instead. These clouds are made up of, what else, ice crystals.

Sure enough, the data matched, which meant the flashes were definitely reflections, not some type of weather phenomenon.

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