NASA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) has captured 866 bursts of reflected light appearing on the Earth’s surface using the specialised polychromatic imaging camera known as EPIC.
These ‘flashes’ were initially spotted in 1993 by Carl Sagan on images of Earth taken by the Galileo spacecraft on its journey towards Jupiter. However, Sagan and others deemed the ‘flashes’ to be simple reflections of water from oceans or lakes.
When the data was analysed further, it was discovered the flashes appeared on land as well as water masses; with the images captured by EPIC, researchers have further determined the flashes are the result of high-altitude ice crystals reflecting sunlight entering the Earth’s atmosphere.
Computer modelling software may be able to use these ‘flashes’ to indicate how much solar radiation is entering our atmosphere, leading to more accurate weather monitoring and forecasting. Equally, the modelling could be used to determine the level of sunlight present in exoplanets, and thus their ability to host new life.
Ariella Heffernan-Marks in a Melbourne-based science writer.
Read science facts, not fiction...
There’s never been a more important time to explain the facts, cherish evidence-based knowledge and to showcase the latest scientific, technological and engineering breakthroughs. Cosmos is published by The Royal Institution of Australia, a charity dedicated to connecting people with the world of science. Financial contributions, however big or small, help us provide access to trusted science information at a time when the world needs it most. Please support us by making a donation or purchasing a subscription today.