Spotting Mysterious Twinkles on Earth From a Million Miles Away

Many people who viewed the images posted by NASA noticed the bright flashes and wrote to Dr. Marshak asking what they were.

Dr. Marshak began to investigate, and he came across early observations of the lights described by Dr. Sagan and colleagues in 1993. They had seen the mirrorlike reflections in satellite images taken by the Galileo spacecraft as it swung around Earth en route to Jupiter.

β€œHe saw many, many sun glints, and he mentioned it only over the oceans,” Dr. Marshak said. The explanation offered for the flashes was that they were reflections from the smooth surface of the water. But when Dr. Marshak reviewed the images from Galileo, he saw the flashes also appeared over land, as they did in the images from Dscovr.

With his colleagues, he analyzed about 860 glints of light observed by Dscovr from the time it reached orbit…

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