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Mysterious flashes of light from Earth captured by NASA satellite

by Anthony Watts, wattsupwiththat:

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. NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) instrument aboard DSCOVR is taking almost-hourly images of the sunlit planet from its spot between Earth and the sun. In a new study, scientists deciphered the tiny cause to the big reflections: high-altitude, horizontally oriented ice crystals.

“The source of the flashes is definitely not on the ground,” said Alexander Marshak, DSCOVR deputy project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the new study in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. “It’s definitely ice, and most likely solar reflection off of horizontally oriented particles.”

Detecting glints like this from much farther away could be used by other spacecraft to study exoplanets, Marshak said. He is now investigating how common these horizontal ice particles are and whether they’re common enough to have a measureable impact on how much sunlight passes through the atmosphere. If so, it’s a feature that could be incorporated into computer models of how much heat is reaching and leaving Earth, he said.

Spotting bright flashes

Marshak first noticed light flashes occasionally appearing over oceans as he looked through daily EPIC images. Investigating them further, Marshak and his colleagues found 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.

Read More @ wattsupwiththat.com

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