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The researcher walks the path of the mysterious glow

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to: Tanya Banner

The mysterious glow of the sea from sailors’ tales is already there. A researcher walks the path of the frightening phenomenon.

Fort Collins – For centuries, sailors have reported a mysterious glow of the sea, with the sea surface radiating a uniform bright glow described as “a bright surreal snow field under a dark, moonless sky.” So-called “milky seas” are “vast expanses of uniform, consistently luminous ocean that can be seen at night,” explains researcher Steven Miller of Colorado State University in Fort Collins. “This phenomenon is thought to be caused by luminescent bacteria, but the details of the composition, structure, causes and effects of milk seas in nature remain largely unclear.”

Milk seas can cover thousands of square kilometers, but they are difficult to identify and difficult to study: they appear only twice a year at most. Only once did a research ship find itself in sea glare – so little research has been done on this phenomenon so far. “Unlike transient flashes of bioluminescence from phytoplankton in turbulent waters, milk seas glow evenly in calm waters. They are thought to be caused by the glow of bacteria communicating with each other and triggering a glowing response when a critical population is reached,” Miller describes these phenomenon.

When the sun went down, the sailors were accustomed to seeing the mysterious glow of the sea. The researcher tries to track down the phenomenon. (iconic image) © IMAGO / zittto

Mysterious note in the sea: the water turns white, the sea is glowing

The researcher has been tracking the “Milky Way” phenomenon for years. Using satellite data, he and the research team were able to Detecting sea glare in the sea. However, so far the researchers have lost an important piece of the puzzle for their work: photographic observations of “milky seas” from space, and at the same time from Earth. But now, for the first time, Miller has succeeded in establishing a link between satellite data indicating sea glow and reports and photographs of people who were in the right place at the right time: in the middle of “milk seas.”

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In 2019, the researcher used satellites to detect sea glare on a large scale: it spread over more than 100,000 square kilometers of sea surface south of Java. For the first time, there is now a report from “On Site”: the crew members of the private yacht Ganesha were able to see the mysterious phenomenon with their own eyes. In his new study, the in the magazine Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences chest Miller documented the crew’s experience and compared it to satellite images.

Sea Lights: The yacht crew watches the frightening phenomenon

The 16-meter yacht Ganesha was cruising around with seven crew members when she got stuck at sea in the eastern Indian Ocean in August 2019. The ship’s crew watched the frightening glow in the ocean for eight hours. The study quotes from the yacht log:

Waking up at 10pm the sea was white. There is no moon, the sea seems full of plankton, but the bow wave is black! It feels like sailing on snow!

According to the crew aboard the yacht, the entire ocean was brighter than the night sky, with a steady glow visible on the horizon. The yacht’s crew sampled the sea in a bucket – and that water glowed, too. But wherever the sea water moved – by ship or by moving the bucket – the glow disappeared.

‘Sailors of the Milky Way’: Bacteria glow and discolor the ocean

Footage from the GoPro camera and several smartphones clearly show the glowing sea stretching from horizon to horizon. A crew member attempted to describe the frightening ocean vision in the record: “The color and intensity of the glow was similar to the glow-in-the-dark stars/stickers or the luminous face of a watch…a glow.”

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The captain of the yacht, Johan Lemmens, told researcher Miller that the glow came from some depth – about ten meters below the surface of the water. This contrasts with the previous assumption that glow-producing bacteria form a thin film on the surface that is perturbed by the movement of water. Thanks to the crew’s information, Miller now believes it was a “source of a volumetric and/or submerged bacterial emission.”

Sea glow photos taken by the Ganesha crew.  Left: GoPro shot Middle: Samsung smartphone shot Right: Photo modified according to the actual color perception of the crew.
Sea glow photos taken by the Ganesha crew. Left: GoPro shot Middle: Samsung smartphone shot Right: Photo modified according to the actual color perception of the crew. © Ganesha crew

Scholar Miller is happy and has a completely unscientific dream

“The biggest missing link in our study last year was the lack of soil data,” Miller said in a statement released by his university. But this current study provides them. It was a relief to have this communication from the Ganesha crew.” The ship’s crew reached out to Miller after learning of the Milk Sea satellite sighting in 2019. “Since we in the scientific community are able to see these phenomena from space, we hope,” Miller said. That more eyewitnesses come forward and put more pieces of the scientific puzzle together.”

The researcher wants to devote himself to this phenomenon and also has a completely unscientific dream, as he revealed in a statement from his university: “Above all, I dream that one day I will be on a ship that sails in a huge sea of ​​milk in which we all dip and bask in its splendor! I know that Not very scientific, but what inspires us?” (tab)

The seas are still largely unexplored, so researchers aren’t just baffled by the Milky Way: In February, a A mysterious animal discovered off the coast of Italy.

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