Mysterious Flashes Seen By NASA Camera; Deep Space Climate Observatory Spots Hundreds Of Flashes

Well, we aren’t talking about alien planets and extra-terrestrial life. We are talking about our very own Earth. One million miles from Earth, NASA camera has captured mysterious flashes. NOAA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) has caught hundreds of such flashes in a span of one year. Initially, the exact cause for the mysterious flashes wasn’t very clear. So what are these flashes and where are they coming from?

image source: NASA

Mysterious flashes captured by NASA camera

The flashes were first observed by Alexander Marshak from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. The flashes were seen over oceans. These flashes, it’s now understood, are because of light reflecting off our planet. NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) which is the on-board instrument in DSCOVR for capturing photos, has been taking hourly images of our planet.

These flashes are believed to be caused by light reflected off oceans – when Sunlight hits a smooth part of an ocean or lake, the reflections head directly to the sensor, much like taking a flash-picture in a mirror. Astronomer Carl Sagan had observed similar reflections from Earth back in 1993, when he was looking at images taken by Galileo spacecraft.

To confirm the cause of the flashes, the researchers made a collection of the prospective sunlight glints over land in images captured from EPIC. Between June 2015 and August 2016, the researchers found about 866 bursts, which showed up in red, green and blue colors several minutes apart. The reasoning that followed was that if the flashes were caused by reflected sunlight, then they would be restricted to specific parts of Earth, specifically the spots where the angle between Sun and Earth is the same as the angle between spacecraft and Earth.

image source: NASA

“We found quite a few very bright flashes over land as well. 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. Lightning doesn’t care about the sun and EPIC’s location. 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.