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Unknown orange-red glow over Pacific Ocean (pbase.com)
366 points by 3rd3 1032 days ago | hide | past | web | 115 comments | favorite

From Wikipedia —

  "Earthquake light is an unusual luminous aerial phenomenon
  that reportedly appears in the sky at or near areas of
  tectonic stress, seismic activity, or volcanic eruptions."

Considering there were reports of seismic activity in the area around the approximate time of the event, it's possible that ionized air promoted formation of sprites and/or ball lightning.

While earthquake light does seem like one of the better explanations, the length of time it was observed (>30 min) would make it one of the longest observed earthquake light sightings.

Is it just me or do those hypotheses sound like the mechanics of a cartoon villain's evil plan?

I know that's what I'd do if I were evil and a genius. Which I'm not.

Flying towards Alaska south of the Kamchatka peninsula...

I bet he saw this hypersonic vehicle being blown up and the lights from a massive observation fleet.


"An experimental hypersonic weapon developed to reach targets anywhere in the world within an hour has been destroyed by the US military four seconds after its launch for “public safety”.

The test in Alaska in the early hours of Monday morning was aborted after controllers detected a problem with the system, the Pentagon said, and the launcher is believed to have detonated before the missile was deployed."

I think this has hit it on the nose. It also fits in with his earlier observation of the launch or crash (but no photos)

"Then, very far in the distance ahead of us, just over the horizon an intense lightflash shot up from the ground. It looked like a lightning bolt, but way more intense and directed vertically up in the air. "

Bravo sir!

The timing seems right, they were firing south, and that photo from The Independent matches his description very well.

edit - I've posted the suggestion to his blog thingy, am going to keep an eye to see what the Flying Dutchman makes of it, if anything. Also, is a suitable handle really, given the context.

While there is a chance it was an observation fleet, the prototype itself was aborted during takeoff, so it's unlikely it was light from the prototype itself:

“The weapon exploded during takeoff and fell back down in the range complex.”

It was very bright and over the horizon so he cannot see where it is exactly, the flash could easily be much further away than the lights he then passed over.

So, this seemed conceivable, but it's the wrong side of the pacific.

Vertical lightning bolt + thin layer of cloud + red and green glows = MIRV re-entry, underwater nuclear detonation, excited oxygen ions bashed loose from seawater.

The Russians have been bragging about their new SS-27 variants domestically and internationally quite a bit. Geopolitically everything's currently a bit up in the air.

Also, any radiation from this could be written off as Fukushima spill-over.

Just a thought. Hope I'm wrong.

Simple, explains almost everything. Dangling question: why were the lights red?

From the pics the light looks like something on fire. I'd speculate what he observed was a flaming oil slick on the water surface after the detonation.

Also if that's true it means that they lied about it being "in the range complex" - looks like it almost made its way to Russia.. explains why they detonated it.. nice little engineer/QA conspiracy theory

Not all of them were. Many white lights, many red lights, some yellow and one green.

Them all being red at first could just be a color code for 'Oh shit, something unexpected has occurred with the immensely dangerous thing that we are downrange of'.

Guy has a lot of other nice pictures:

St. Elmo's fire: http://www.pbase.com/flying_dutchman/image/156304671

Northern lights from inside the cockpit: http://www.pbase.com/flying_dutchman/image/155775399

The aurora looks like the majority of its glow is below the aircraft? It's green, so wikipedia implies it's oxygen at a relatively lower level, but I didn't think it was below 30,000 feet.

Considering lava cools and darkens almost immediately under water, I'd imagine it would have to be an incredibly epic underwater eruption (and thus, detectible) for that much light to make its way through that much water and project itself onto the clouds above that location. Also, the light should diffuse as it makes its way through water, air, and onto the clouds above, so the seemingly neat circles of light don't seem to match up with a sea floor-based light source either.

The light would also be much bluer if it had passed through any significant quanitity of seawater. Red light attenuates very fast.

Not necessarily lava. Could be a pumice raft which had enough latent heat after floating up to re-ignite.

Clutching at straws.

There was a quake right nearby where the pilot saw this phenomena. Relation?


I wish the pilot had indicated exact UTC time the phenom happened. Hard to pinpoint but nevertheless, his position and the quake's position are quite close, even if the two events were hours apart.

It looks like UTC time is indicated in the watermarks. 11:17 - 11:24 UTC.

Excellent find

Earthquake Alarm: Impending earthquakes have been sending us warning signals--and people are starting to listen


"A light or glow in the sky sometimes heralds a big earthquake. On 17 January 1995, for example, there were 23 reported sightings in Kobe, Japan, of a white, blue, or orange light extending some 200 meters in the air and spreading 1 to 8 kilometers across the ground. Hours later a 6.9-magnitude earthquake killed more than 5500 people..."

hooray earthquake history. If he is talking about aug 23/24th 2014 there were 3 earthquakes over ~24 hours. Im not educated on earthquakes. Just an interesting footnote for a mystery.

http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/eventpage/nc72282711#... http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/eventpage/usb000s5rc#... http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/eventpage/usb000s5x1#...

A possible explanation from a 2003 paper is Electron Holes ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electron_hole )

"Rocks That Crackle and Sparkle and Glow: Strange Pre-Earthquake Phenomena"

http://www.scientificexploration.org/journal/jse_17_1_freund... [PDF]

Mysterious lightning flashes that appear to precede earthquakes could be sparked by movements in the ground below, US scientists say.


"Our first suspicion was this has got to be a mistake. There must be something stupid we are doing," said Professor Troy Shinbrot, of Rutgers University, New Jersey.

"We took a tupperware container filled with flour, tipped it back and forth until cracks appeared, and it produced 200 volts of charge.


Wouldn't the water 'absorb' the charge?

You mean be conductive enough to discharge it? Depends on how pure the water is:


we're talking about ocean water, though. an excellent conductor.

Well, the comments are interesting...


Nobody seems to have considered a biological explanation.

What about a tide of bioluminescent bacteria or algae? Typically these emit blue light and are known, in the case of bacteria, as the 'milky seas effect'[0]. But algal tides sometimes bioluminesce red or orange. With a high local concentration of nitrogen or another limiting nutrient (which might upswell from the seabed due seismic activity below) you might get extremely high concentrations leading to the patterns shown in the photograph.

0: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milky_seas_effect

One of the commenters on his site mentioned bioluminescence. It seems unlikely to me that such an effect could produce the intensity of light required to project the pattern he saw onto clouds at 30k+ feet though.

I thought the light in the sky was well explained by the seismic phenomenon.

If it was something natural, people (pilots) would be used to it by now. He's describing something "unknown and creepy"

Natural does not mean common. It's just as likely that it's an uncommon biological phenomenon as it is as uncommon physical phenomenon.

Doesn't explain the explosion beforehand.

This earthquake (MB4.6 Kuril Islands, Aug. 24, 2014, 9:45 p.m. UTC) matches closely to the time and location, but it doesn't really explain the claimed observations.


The red/orange might of been the effects of a volcano. Just speculating though, since it wouldn't explain the lack of ash.

To me, it doesn't :


The plane was travelling more south that these dots.

How about mid-oceanic methane flares lit by lightning? Would explain the initial flashes and the incandescent look of the lights.

I'm hoping a resident atmospheric scientist and/or geologist will show up with answers. There's probably a very good explanation for the (electrical?) bolt of light that he saw at first and the green color of the night sky, and I'd bet almost anything that both have to do with submarine volcanic eruptions.

I think the answers about it being an underwater lava formation sound reasonable. If it were in/around a cloud, and maybe a bit more transient, I'd be tempted to say it was a red sprite: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sprite_(lightning)

Sprites/elves are my favorite atmospheric effect :)

I asked my vulcanologist friend and she said it could not be underwater lava.

Maybe she would write a blog post about it?

The comments below the post are mostly toxic.

You're telling me this isn't the US government conducting top secret experiments to control the weather?!

Well, probably not the bit about the weather - http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/experimenta...

At first, I thought this might have been an announcement for a spin-off of "Welcome to Night Vale."

If you're not familiar, it's a fiction podcast that presents itself as a community announcement hour on the town of Night Vale's public radio station. There was a particular story arc involving a sentient, glowing cloud that descended on town and demanded to be made a part of the city council.

It's free, and it's cute. If you like such things, check it out. http://commonplacebooks.com/

The lights in the ocean are a mystery to me, but the green light in the sky would be airglow (1). I've seen it many times, even stronger than in the op's photos. I don't believe there's any connection between the sky and the ocean lights. 1: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airglow

Browsing the various discussions on Reddit, the most plausible explanation is (IMO) fleets of squid fishing boats.


Nah, they use white/blue lights - definitely not orange!

As he says, it's really not the right hue (red light for fishing squid would make no sense anyway, since it wouldn't travel very far in water).

Chinese lanterns from a cruise ship maybe. Someone should check to see if any were in the area.


I could be wrong, but I think it would be almost impossible to capture an 8-second exposure while flying and somehow manage to keep the stars from becoming light trails - at least not without some very serious camera stabilization equipment.

Since the photographer didn't seem to mention anything special used for taking the photos, I'm inclined to say they've been 'shopped.

Have you ever looked at the moon while driving? It stays in the same position relative to the car, if the car is not turning.

Plane on autopilot + camera steadied by plane body + fisheye lens (which he was using) makes this very believable.

EDIT: not to mention, we are all hurtling around the Earth at around 1,000 miles per hour AS WE SPEAK. If that doesn't produce trails (it doesn't, see my math below), a few extra hundred MPH in a plane doesn't change jack squat.

Sorry, I still don't believe it. Even with a fisheye lens and an incredibly stable aircraft, you're still going to see trails. If you don't believe me, I invite you to try it.

EDIT: I assume all the downvoters can provide us with links to their libraries of long-exposure, night aerial photography without using gyros?

See my edit. The only trails you will see are due to the rotation of the earth; not the movement of the plane.

EDIT: MATH: Assume the horizontal FOV is ~90 degrees (conservative according to Wikipedia). 30 (time) seconds around the Earth is (90/360)/(24x60x60/30) = 1/720 of that field. Meaning, you'd need a 720 px image to even see one PIXEL of blur due to the rotation of the Earth. The additional velocity of the plane contributes MUCH LESS than this; hence it is not visible.

Running some rough numbers:

If a 10mm lens can capture ~120° angle of view, then the image at 1024 px (low quality) represents 0.117° per pixel. In the 30s exposure, there is < 3 px represented by many stars, so that's 0.351° of tolerance.

How often have you flown in an airplane with less than 1/3 of a degree of drift on any axis over 30 seconds?

Yes, I'm quite familiar with the rotation of the earth and its effects on long exposures (I do some astrophotography myself). I'm not referring to that here, but rather to the normal instability of an airplane.

EDIT: I'm not just referring to pitch, but also to roll, yaw and vibration.

Seeing as 1/3 degree drift in a plane traveling 700 MPH translates into nearly 300 feet of elevation gain/loss; and that the seat-back altimeter readouts on commercial airlines I've flown in never seem to deviate more than 10 feet from the set altitude, I'm gonna guess every auto-piloted flight I've been on drifts less than that.

Not to mention that these are not the first pictures of stars this guy has taken from a plane: http://www.pbase.com/flying_dutchman/image/155755548

Alright, you've convinced me. To be fair, most of this guy's other night aerial photos either have shorter exposure times or exhibit some obvious trails in the stars (even the one you posted shows considerably more streaking in the stars).

Taken out of context, the few photos included in this post did seem more suspicious, but it looks like a combination of very good/stable conditions and a lack of resolution to notice more streaking.

I thought it was worth letting you know that I upvoted this comment for conceding the debate when presented with evidence. This is a commendable skill, one which many of us lack, and which all of us occasionally forget to exercise.

Yes, I also upvoted that comment and the one he made before. This is how a debate should look like - both sides present their reasoning using (however rough) numbers and facts, and settle on the result evidence suggests. Thank you for reminding us how adults should talk, and - if you forgive going meta - thanks @nitrogen for reminding us to remind this ourselves :).

And I upvoted his still-grayed-out original post. This is what figuring things out looks like. It was a reasonable thing to bring up when examining something this bizarre.

The vibration is still going to kill you, though. You don't get pinpoint stars like that in a 30 sec exposure on a tripod on a vibrating surface. Unless it's doing active image correction, I find it implausible.

1. Have you ever been on a commercial airliner? There's not really much vibration. (Yes, there's vibration, but the amplitude is not more than like a millimeter.)

2. Mechanical image stabilization exists and is common. Not sure whether fisheye lenses have it, but:

3. Fisheye lenses GREATLY reduce parallax error. Do the math out.

4. The vibration would NEED to be rotational, not lateral, for all the same reasons discussed above (stars are too far for lateral motion to change their apparent position). However little lateral vibration there is in an airplane, I guarantee there's even less rotational vibration. Sound/vibration simply doesn't work that way.

You are not incorrect about anything. The only exception to the challenge you are making could be in that assumption that the images were intentionally doctored with to disguise/obfuscate/alter reality. In face: They were intentionally doctored, there has been an editor on these files. The originals will no doubt provide further math.

EDIT: Note that JPC seems to be preparing for a naming-of-feature challenge, which in itself is an interesting aspect of the whole story! Go for it, I say!

Skepticism is mandatory on HN, except when it's forbidden.

People have taken to down voting things that they don't agree with, it's sad because it stops debate and contrary opinions.

Down vote trolls, down vote personal attacks, down vote propaganda - sure.

> People have taken to down voting things that they don't agree with, it's sad because it stops debate and contrary opinions.

Downvoting to express disagreement was explicitly sanctioned by pg back in February 2008.


It's actually very possible to capture that with some crude stabilization considering that his aircraft was moving towards the area he was photographing instead of laterally. (You would get a much-more pronounced motion blur of the foreground otherwise)

Just to be sure, I ran the watermarked "original" through FotoForensics:


There's some artifacts around the area but the overall pattern of the noise seems to check out. The EXIF data is also still intact (albeit processed through Photoshop), he'd have to be somewhat committed to forge that as well.

Not entirely impossible. A fixed mount for the camera (such as a tripod) would be able to get such an image, assuming steady flying conditions. In 8 seconds, stars would not leave much of a trail on a fish-eye lens (since the field of view is large).

The star trails are not going to be very visible with a 10mm lens and the photos are low res. Also have to consider where he's pointing too.

I still see trails on the outer edges of some pics though.

The hubble moves significantly faster than an aircraft and takes exposures significantly longer than 8seconds.

The Hubble isn't flying through the atmosphere, and is specifically engineered to take very long-duration exposures.

You've seen the Hubble Deep Field image, right? The one where Hubble's operators found an entirely empty region of sky and stared at it for over 134 hours over ten days and 342 exposures (mostly separated to keep individual exposures from being degraded by cosmic ray strikes).

That's really not comparable with an aircraft, moving through the atmosphere, with turbulence, engine vibration, and other factors contributing to deviations from a steady trajectory. Though the image does appear to be fairly plausible from others' comments.


The question was about why there weren't streaks from the long exposure photo. My point is that the hubble also moves very fast and takes long exposures of tiny points of light without streaks. Streaking has very little to do with the atmosphere and more to do with moving the target around the sensor during exposure.

The hubble is above the atmosphere to reduce other kinds of optical interference, but streaking isn't one of them.

Any vibration or relative movement of either the camera or aircraft will also cause movement trails, though not the ones typically associated with long exposures and star trails centered on the North Star.

Most such long exposures span at least several minutes, though.

>You've seen the Hubble Deep Field image, right?

This naming convention they are using doesn't seem scalable.

Hubble Deep Field

Hubble Ultra-Deep Field

Hubble Extreme Deep Field

The Hubble also cost thousands of times more than many private aircraft.

It's less a matter of cost and more of its situation: orbiting, not flying, through vacuum, not air, with careful attention to stabilization and vibration elimination.

It costs a lot of money to get that large of an object into that ideal location, though. In the context of my original comment, "cost" could be seen as a proxy for "difficulty" of any kind. Perhaps it was too short and a bit flippant, but it seemed appropriate to respond in kind to the original comparison between Hubble and an airplane.

There are also aircraft-based observatories. Principally for exploring specific wavelengths of light absorbed in the lower atmosphere. And, incidentally, rather less expensive than orbital observatories.

Good guidance, getting above turbulence, and having specific compensation for movement/motion all helps.

My points stand: the characteristics of Hubble are not directly related to cost, and attributing the distinction to that alone is a poor explanation.

Pretty sure this lines up with the US military launching then immediately destroying a new weaponry system in Alaska: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/08/25/us-usa-military-hy...

When the earthquake hit California there was also people reporting seeing a blue light.

Some examples here: http://abcnews.go.com/US/northern-california-struck-60-magni...

Possibly transformer explosions?

I'm sticking to the theory saying it is volcanic material. I mean, it's common sense. Now, when it comes to the northern lights, I wouldn't be so sure. Maybe a reaction caused by the volcanic material reaching out to the sky? It must've been an immense explosion for it to do that, though.

There was a mysterious giant crack in the earth in Mexico last Friday.


Looks like a fault line/tectonic plate movement, to me.

I'd hazard a guess that the recent volcanic activity, there was probably ash in the air? Especially with a recent earthquake. Red light photons move stronger than other colours in the spectrum don't they? I have no idea... looks amazing though.

Underwater volcano is quite possible near a subduction zone. Were they flying over one?

Wow, those stars are amazing at altitude and with no light pollution, I wish the passengers could see up too (and also without a nose-greased, scratched-up plastic in between).

Those photos are eight to thirty second exposures at f/2.8 and ISO >10k - there's a lot more light in the pictures than a human eye can ever gather. I'm sure the sky would still look pretty epic to a completely dark-adjusted eye, though.

Just wait for the plane to turn.

I'm surprised no-one has suggested weather balloons.

Here's an aerial picture of fishing boats near Thailand: http://i.imgur.com/kvOF9nL.jpg

The pattern seems similar.

I'm sorry, what? The two look nothing alike: http://m1.i.pbase.com/g9/23/582523/2/157113241.BeCtINyg.jpg

Considering the photog cranked up the iso and ran a 30sec exposure, i'd imagine the variability could produce some strange effects. This is also shot through clouds.

I'm trying to find where you and others are getting this notion of a 30 second exposure. The watermark on the picture appears to claim 8 seconds and there's nothing else on the site that indicates much more than 8 seconds. Was the post edited at some point?

This picture's watermark claims it was a 30 second exposure: http://www.pbase.com/flying_dutchman/image/157113240

Ah, I missed that one.

Although it also appears to be much more distant in that shot, hence the (possible?) reason for a longer exposure.

It's interesting to note that the closer shot is an 8 second exposure, though I'm not sure what bearing that might have.

They are two different pictures.

Three, actually.

I missed the other one as well which was a 3 second exposure. So, my mistake. (I thought for certain I didn't see anything with 30 seconds on it, but I think somewhere along the lines my brain filtered out the watermarks inappropriately, which I shouldn't have done.)

Although I'm still puzzled why some are getting caught up on the frame with a 30 second exposure. The image in question is clearly taken of a distant object, and the other exposures are reduced in exposure time by an order of magnitude.

Clearly, there was something occurring. Whether or not it was volcanic is another story entirely (or whether it was a collection of boats). The only use here though is to argue whether the differing exposure times was intentional in order to capture an image that differed from the actual event. But given the different exposure times, the alternative explanation is that he selected them based (at least in part) on proximity to the point of interest.

If the photo didn't resemble the eyewitness's experience, the eyewitness would have mentioned it.

Photos and videos can easily become the eyewitness's experience. That's how shaky videos of airplanes and lights become extraterrestrial visitors.

I don't understand how, with an 8s exposure from a moving vehicle, the photos have perfect stars. There should be streaking.

Turns out that stars are really friggin' far away, so with a nice steady plane and some stabilization equipment, you're not going to get enough parallax for streaking to occur.

Hi, streaking is not necessarily due to parallax. It's due to movement of the camera and or movement of the earth. (Try taking a hand held long exposure of the stars, for example).

I guess for that 8s the plan was very stable (no rolling/pitching) AND the focal length is short enough and the resolution low enough the streakiness is masked. I'm still impressed by the amount of stars he captured.

See my explanation here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8225519

(TLDR: consider (a) how the moon does not appear to move when viewed from a car moving in a straight line, and (b) that the surface of the Earth is constantly moving at ~1,000 MPH.)

No, planes don't rotate much when flying - it would be inefficient. Also, it is using a 10mm lens.

An 8s exposure with a 10mm lens will not show trails at the resolutions shown there.

Is this where we start building giant robots in preparation for the giant monsters that will appear?


No, because that would kick all sorts of ass.

R'lyeh is rising, of course. Heil Cthulhu!


These are hostile... Why must we meddle?

Well played, sir. One internet point for you.

Viral marketing for Cloverfield 2 or Pacific Rim 2?

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