The stunning ‘Sea of ​​Stars’ filmed for the first time by the yacht crew

Bioluminescence, or the production of light by living organisms, has long fascinated researchers. Like fireflies, many marine species also exhibit this ability, including jellyfish and deep-sea fish, as well as ocean plankton and many aquatic bacteria.

These microorganisms will be responsible, in some places, for the formation of shimmering sheets on the surface of the water – commonly called “star seas” (in English, “Milky sailor”or “milky sea”) these luminous phenomena, described by sailors, often escape scientific observation, which would nevertheless make it possible to dissect their mechanisms.

However, between late July and early September 2019, US Oceanic and Atmospheric Monitoring Agency (NOAA) satellites – equipped with specialized low-light sensors – detected a wide shimmering spot south of Java, Indonesia, extending over 100,000 square kilometers.

The image was then the subject of the first scientific study published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports (7/2021), the authors determined that it was most likely a sea of ​​stars – but without being able to prove it with certainty.

After hearing the media “wave” provoked by this study, one of the seven crew members of the Ganesha yacht approached the researchers. In fact, their ship was already 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 island of Lombok and the Cocos Islands, the sailors were able to capture a picture – with a smartphone and a GoPro camera – of this strange ocean glow.

By analyzing the yacht’s path as well as images taken by the crew and their precious testimony, Stephen Miller, a researcher in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at Colorado State University (USA) and dazzling Seas of Stars, published a second shot. Study in the magazine Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS, 7/11/2022).

The scientist shows that satellite images correspond to the same phenomenon that was photographed by the sailors of Ganesha, and that it is indeed a starry sea. He later proves the extraordinary character of this shot from space, and testifies that the sailors’ images constitute the first images of a sea of ​​stars taken by humans.

In the right place at the right time

There is no moon, the sea apparently full of plankton, but a bow wave (A wave forms at the bow of the boat, editor’s note) black. It’s like we’re sailing on the snow”, mentions one of the sailors whose names are mentioned in the study.

A certificate is as rare as it is precious. “So far, it has been by word of mouth only, and has been since the first merchant ships in the eighteenth century. All (these sailors) described something similar, and the pictures (of Ganesha) are consistent with those descriptions – it’s kind of a uniform, an ethereal glow, an almost hazy look, very confusing‘, explains Stephen Miller, quoted by The Daily guardian.

I would say that there are only a few people alive currently who have seen a sea full of stars. Since these are not very frequent – maybe once or twice a year globally – and they don’t usually happen near coasts, so you need to be in the right place at the right time to monitor them‘ asserts the researcher.

According to the American scientist, seas of stars are caused by bioluminescent bacteria that communicate in this way with each other, possibly in response to changes in ocean currents – caused by weather conditions. A phenomenon likely to persist for several weeks.

Comments collected from the crew of Ganesha also provide important information about this little-known phenomenon. So the captain of the yacht said the glow seemed to him to come from about 10 meters below the surface of the water – not a thin surface layer as some scientists had imagined.

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Even more surprisingly, when sailors immersed a bucket in water, they said they noticed regular points of light that darkened when moved. Be the opposite of what should happen with bioluminescence”NormalStephen Miller asserts.

This study should make it possible to better study the starry seas in the future, by combining both satellite observations and scientific missions at sea.”This is a huge and somewhat ambiguous response within our biosphere. We would like to know how it works and how it can evolve with climate change‘ says the researcher.

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