NASA has released a satellite photo of a strange thermal anomaly in the Atlantic Ocean that shows just how much we’re affected by other objects and phenomena in the solar system. A red spot hundreds of kilometers off the coast of Brazil couldn’t be a fire (it’s in the water) nor a volcano (nor in the area) nor a natural gas flare (too deep). What is it? An underground base? Aliens?
If your guess was a poke by one of the Van Allen radiation belts, you’re either up on your atmospheric phenomena or you work for NASA on the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) watching the surface of the Earth from the Suomi NPP (National Polar-orbiting Partnership), a weather satellite operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The VIIRS’s mission is to collect “visible and infrared imagery and radiometric measurements of the land, atmosphere, cryosphere, and oceans” and use the data to “measure cloud and aerosol properties, ocean color, sea and land surface temperature, ice motion and temperature, fires, and Earth's albedo.” A VIIRS photograph taken by on July 14, 2017, and recently released to the public caught the attention of scientists because it showed a fire where there’s no possibility that a fire could exist … in deep waters of the South Atlantic.
“Each night, the sensor was detecting several dozen thermal anomalies over the Atlantic Ocean in places that didn’t make sense.”
Like just about everything else we use these days, Wilfrid Schroeder, principal investigator, says the VIIRS has an algorithm ... this one is supposed to filter out false readings, stray pixels and other anomalies. However, this one wasn’t designed to deal with all of these strange signals that looked like ocean fires, especially the big one on July 17. Fortunately, they saved the receipt and took it back to Patricia Oliva, a scientist at Universidad Mayor (a private university in Santiago, Chile) who agreed that it’s not a fire. So, what is it?
“It is almost certainly SAMA.”
That’s the South Atlantic Magnetic Anomaly. You’ve never heard of it? The Earth’s magnetic field is weak over the South Atlantic, allowing one of the Van Allen radiation belts (the pair of energetic charged solar wind particles held by Earth’s magnetic field anywhere from 310 to 36,040 miles (500 to 58,000 km) to poke through and create a radiation hotspot. The SAMA is strong enough to affect satellites passing through them – the Hubble telescope is shut down when passing through them and Space Shuttle astronauts reported them frying their laptops. Boy, it’s a good thing that hole is over the ocean, right? Right?
“As a result, much of South America and part of the South Atlantic Ocean get an extra dose of radiation.”
All together now, in Spanish and Portuguese: “We’re all gonna die!”
Well, not really, at least not in the opinion of NASA. The algorithm was fine-tuned to identify them and … eliminate them from the data! Wouldn’t you want to know about radiation poking through the atmosphere from the Van Allen Radiation Belt at an intensity strong enough to fool a satellite into thinking it’s a fire?
Where’s the NASA complaint office?