According to a report by Sputnik News, a Russian satellite has detected mysterious light “explosions” in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Cue that Ancient Aliens meme. (Even if it is almost certainly not aliens.)
The unknown phenomenon was reportedly captured by Moscow State University’s Mikhailo Lomonosov satellite, but no paper has been published and there doesn’t appear to be an official press release from the university. So for now – and until there is – it is probably a good idea to take the news with a pinch of salt.
Mikhail Panasyuk, the director of the Research Institute of Nuclear Physics at Moscow State University, spoke to Sputnik News about this strange observation.
“It looks like we have encountered new physical phenomena,” Panasyuk said.
“For example, during Lomonosov's flight at an altitude of several dozen kilometers, we have registered several times a very powerful 'explosion' of light. But everything was clear underneath it, no storms, no clouds,” he continued. He added that they do not yet understand the physical nature of this strange phenomenon.
Details on these apparent light explosions are extremely vague but faint flashes of light called sprites, which appear above thunderstorms, are a relatively common occurrence. They generally appear red with red or purple tendrils stretching downwards, giving off an ethereal effect. Of course, if, as Panasyuk says, there were no storms below the lights, the flashes of light picked up by the Lomonosov satellite must be something else.
What about ice crystals? In 2017, NASA researchers discovered that sudden flashes of light observed from space were being caused by sunrays reflecting on ice crystals. These bursts, they realized, emanated from cirrus clouds 5-8 kilometers (3-5 miles) above the surface of the Earth. Again if, as Panasyuk says, there were no clouds below the lights, they must be being caused by something else. Plus, it's unclear whether or not this phenomenon can be captured on a UV telescope like the one on the Lomonosov satellite.
Other celestial light shows have had more terrestrial origins. The eerie-looking cloud that turned New York City's skyline a luminescent blue last year, for example, turned out to be the aftermath of a transformer explosion at a Con Edison facility based in Queens. Meanwhile, the ghostly ball of light seen floating over Siberia back in 2017 is thought to have been caused by the launch of intercontinental ballistic missiles, which sounds almost as terrifying as a full-blown alien invasion.