The seeker walks the path of the mysterious glow

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The mysterious glow of the sea from sailor’s tales is already there. A researcher travels the path of the scary phenomenon.

Fort Collins – For centuries sailors have reported a mysterious sea glow, with the sea surface emitting a uniform brilliant glow described as “a surreal snowfield glowing beneath a dark, moonless sky.” “Milky seas” are “wide expanses of uniform, constantly bright ocean that can be seen at night,” says researcher Steven Miller of Colorado State University at 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.”

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

When the sun was setting, 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 shines

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

In 2019, the researcher used satellites to detect large-scale marine glare: 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 crew of the yacht watches the spooky phenomenon

The 16-meter yacht Ganesha was sailing with seven crew members when it became stranded at sea in the eastern Indian Ocean in August 2019. The ship’s crew watched the spooky glow in the ocean for eight hours. The study quotes the yacht’s journal:

Waking up at 10 p.m. 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 constant glow visible on the horizon. The yacht crew sampled the sea in a bucket – and that water was glistening too. But wherever the seawater moved – by boat or by moving the bucket – the glow disappeared.

“Sailors of the Milky Way”: bacteria glow and discolor the ocean

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

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

Photos of the glow of the sea taken by Ganesha’s crew. Left: GoPro shot Middle: Samsung smartphone shot Right: Photo edited based on actual crew color perception. © 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 Ganesha’s crew. The ship’s crew contacted 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 so,” Miller said. . May more eyewitnesses come forward and put together more pieces of the scientific puzzle. »

The researcher wants to devote himself to this phenomenon and also has a totally unscientific dream, as he revealed in a press release from his university: “I dream above all that one day I will be on a ship that sails in an immense sea. of milk in which we all bathe and bask in its splendour! I know it’s not very scientific, but what inspires us? (tongue)

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