July 27, 2017

Mysterious Flashes of Light Spotted on Earth from Space

19 May 2017, 11:24 | Ross Houston

Glint From Ice Particles In Earth's Atmosphere Could Be Used To Study Exoplanets

Mysterious Light Flashes 1st Spotted by Carl Sagan Explained

NASA space probes have detected a massive, human-made "barrier" surrounding Earth, and tests have confirmed that it's actually having an effect on space weather far beyond our planet's atmosphere.

The EPIC instrument is a powerful camera aboard DSCOVR that takes near-hourly images of the space between the sun and 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).

This bubble is even seen by spacecrafts high above Earth's surface, such as NASA's Van Allen Probes. NASA's EPIC camera which was first launched in 2015 captured these light flashes reflecting off Earth.

Check out the footage below, which was shot by the EPIC camera onboard DSCOVR spacecraft.

"Large expanses of blue ocean and apparent coastlines are present, and close examination of the images shows a region of [mirror-like] reflection in ocean but not on land", Sagan and his colleagues wrote in their study, which was published in Nature in 1993.

Now that present-day astronomers know about the ice crystals, their next step will be to classify just how common they really are and determine if they could actually be impacting Earth by blocking some of the sunlight that bathes our planet. They analyzed all the sunlight glints over land, 866 bursts in total from June 2015 to August 2016.

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The scientists landed on the ice crystal explanation after realizing that the flashes were coming from a high altitude and couldn't be caused by lightning due to the limited spots on the globe where they appeared. The Deputy Director of DSCOVR, Alexander Marshak, first noticed these lights.

When they were first spotted, scientists thought they were the sun reflecting off the sea.

The scientists also used angles to find that the light reflect off ice particles floating in the air.

"The source of the flashes is definitely not on the ground", says Marshak, per the release. 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. "But the glint is pretty big, so it wasn't that", he added. Similarly, studies began to be mounted around the same time to discover how human-generated charged particles, which would interact with Earth's magnetic fields once they reached near-space, could contribute to artificial radiation belts.

Marshak conducted a series of experiments trying to understand where the lights are appearing from before finally hitting on the solution.

When the spot of the flashes were plotted by researchers, Earth's tilt and spacecraft's locations were found to match, a NASA statement revealed.

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