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A camera attached to a telescope on Hawaii’s highest peak recently captured images of a series of eerie, bright green lines that streaked across the night sky for just over a second. Experts say the unexpected light show was caused by a quick burst of lasers fired toward Land by a NASA spacecraft.
The laser lines appeared on January 28, crossing the sky one by one in just over a second. TO video (opens in a new tab) of the lasers was captured by the Subaru-Asahi Star Camera, co-owned by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) and the Japanese news agency Asahi Shimbun, attached to the Subaru telescope on top of Mauna Kea, an inactive volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii.
A time-lapse image of the lasers firing side by side has drawn online comparisons to “digital rain,” or the lines of green computer code that fall vertically across the screen during the Matrix films. But rather than being a glitch in simulated reality, the lasers were actually emitted by a device aboard NASA’s ICESat-2 satellite, NAOJ representatives wrote in Twitter (opens in a new tab).
ICESat-2 tracks changes in the cryosphere, the part of Earth covered by solid precipitation that includes snow, sea ice, lake and river ice, icebergs, glaciers, ice sheets, ice shelves and permafrost, and land cover. clouds caused by human activity. climate change. To do this, the satellite uses an altimeter (a device that measures altitude) to fire bright lasers toward Earth’s surface, then measures how long it takes for those lasers to bounce off the satellite dish. The altimeter on board ICESat-2, known as the Advanced Survey Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS), is one of the most powerful ever made: it is capable of firing 10,000 green laser pulses per second, allowing the device to collect measurements every 2.3 feet (0.7 meters) across the Earth’s surface, according to the ICESat-2 (opens in a new tab) website.
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The ethereal green lines that appear in the video are the result of a few of these laser pulses, each of which is made up of around 20 trillion photons, aligned exactly with the camera lens.
The laser light show isn’t the only unusual spectacle captured by the Subaru-Asahi Star Camera in the past month.
On January 18, an eerily perfect “swirl” of light in the shape of a spiral galaxy. briefly appeared on Mauna Kea. Experts later found that the luminous spiral was the result of sunlight shining through a cloud of frozen rocket fuel that was ejected by a SpaceX rocket shortly after it deployed a military GPS satellite and before it crashed back to Earth.
The camera also caught another of these “SpaceX” spirals shining down on hawaii in April 2022.
Mauna Kea’s summit is 13,803 feet (4,207 m) above sea level, making it the highest point in Hawaii. Due to its high altitude, the Subaru-Asahi Star Camera has a nearly uninterrupted view of the cosmos. As a result, it is in a prime location to detect unusual visual phenomena in the night sky.