Mysterious flashes on satellite images of Earth explained

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By Sarah McQuate

Mysterious flashes of light that show up on satellite images of Earth’s landmasses have puzzled researchers for a couple of years. Now, scientists have finally pinpointed the culprit: ice crystals floating high above the planet’s surface.

The finding could help refine ideas of how clouds regulate the Earth’s temperature. And it could aid scientists looking for Earth-like exoplanets orbiting other stars. Glinting exoplanets may contain water and be “potential Earth twins”, says Tyler Robinson, a planetary scientist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who wasn’t involved in the study.

Alex Kostinski, a physicist at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, and his colleagues solved the mystery using images from an instrument on board the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR). The satellite launched in 2015 and is parked 1.5 million kilometres away from Earth.

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