Bioluminescence, or the production of light by living organisms, has long fascinated researchers. Like fireflies, a number of marine species display this ability, including jellyfish and deep-sea fish, but also sea plankton and a number of aquatic bacteria.
These tiny organisms will in some places be responsible for forming glossy sheets on the surface of the water – commonly called “star seas” (in English, “Milky Way“Or ‘ocean of milk’). These illuminated phenomena described by sailors are often shielded from scientific observation, which nevertheless makes it possible to dissect their processes.
Nevertheless, in late July and early September 2019, the United States Agency for Oceanic and Atmospheric Observations (NOAA) – equipped with special Lolite sensors – detected a giant slick in Java, south of Indonesia, covering more than 100,000 km2.
The film was then the subject of the first scientific study published in the journal Nature Scientific Report (7/2021), the authors mention that it was probably a sea of stars – but without being able to prove for sure.
Hearing the media “waves” raised by this study, one of the seven crew members of the yacht Ganesha approached the researchers. In fact, their ship was actually present in this part of the Indian Ocean at the time of the events!
Even better, on the night of August 2, 2019, on their voyage between the Indonesian islands of Lombok and Cocos, sailors were even able to take a picture – with a smartphone and a GoPro camera – of this strange sea light.
Analyzing the yacht’s trajectory as well as photographs taken by the crew and their valuable testimony, Steven Miller, a researcher in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at State University of Colorado (USA), revealed the second, fascinated by the sea of stars. Journal study Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS, 7/11/2022).
Scientists have shown that the satellite images match the same phenomena as the images taken by Ganesha’s sailors, and that it is indeed a stellar sea. The exceptional character of this shot taken from space proves and proves that the photos of the sailors are the first pictures of the sea of stars taken by humans.
In the right place at the right time
“There is no moon, the sea is apparently full of plankton, but the bow waves (Editor’s note on the waves that form in front of the boat) Black. Looks like we’re going on ice“, Recalls one of the sailors quoted in the study.
A testimony is as rare as it is valuable. “Until now, it was only word of mouth, and has been since the first trading ships of the 18th century. Everyone (these sailors) has described something similar, and the (Ganesha’s) photos are consistent with those descriptions – it’s a kind of, ethereal aura, almost a foggy look, very confusing.“, Explained Steven Miller, quoted by the Daily Guardian.
“I would say there are only a few people currently alive who have seen the sea of stars. Because they are not very frequent – perhaps one or two worldwide each year – and they do not usually occur near the coast, so you need to be in the right place at the right time to observe them.“, The researcher emphasizes.
According to American scientists, the oceans of stars will be triggered by bioluminescent bacteria that interact with each other in this way, probably in response to changes in ocean currents – induced by the atmospheric conditions themselves. An event that can last up to a few weeks.
The comments collected from Ganesha’s crew also provide important information on this little-known incident. So the captain of the yacht said that the aura seemed to be coming to him from about 10 meters below the surface of the water – as some scientists had imagined, rather than a thin surface layer.
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More surprisingly, while submerging a bucket of water, sailors say they regularly observed light points that became dark when illuminated. It has to be the exact opposite of what happens with bioluminescence. “Normal“, Insisted Steven Miller.
This study will combine both satellite observation and scientific expeditions at sea to make it possible to study star oceans better in the future. “This is a really huge and rather mysterious reaction in our biology. We want to know how it works and how it can evolve with climate change“, Says the researcher.
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