NASA Scientists Discover Unusual Structures Hovering Above the Earth

By: Ben Campbell | Published: Jul 11, 2024

NASA scientists have reported sightings of mysterious shapes flying around above the Earth. The unusual sightings tend to appear out of nowhere at unforeseen times and have sparked considerable interest in their origin, with some scientists suggesting they could help us better understand the complexities of our planet’s atmosphere.

Despite the immediate temptation to suggest these unusual shapes are some form of alien craft hovering above the Earth, researchers have offered an alternative explanation. They claim the phenomena could actually help improve radio communication and researchers to better predict space weather patterns.

Studying the Atmosphere

Researchers worldwide spend considerable time studying the various layers of Earth’s atmosphere, hoping to gain a better understanding of this complex system.

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A photograph of an observatory during a stary night

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During recent observations of the ionosphere high above the surface of our planet, NASA researchers observed unusual X and C shapes that appeared spontaneously in the electrified layer of gas.

Global-Scale Observations of the Limb and Disk

NASA researchers uncovered the mysterious shapes while using an instrument known as the Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD), a mission led by Richard Eastes Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.

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A photograph of NASA’s Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD),

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GOLD aims to image the boundary between Earth and space in an attempt to better understand the solar and atmospheric variability of our planet’s space weather.

GOLD Has Observed Similar Shapes Before

The recent observations of mysterious C- and X-shaped formations in the ionosphere are not the first time such phenomena have been witnessed. However, GOLD has provided researchers with much clearer images.

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A photograph of the Northern Lights

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For the first time, the imaging instrument has also found these shapes in unexpected places, leading scientists to suggest we have a lot more to learn about the ionosphere and its effects on navigation and communication signals that travel through it.

What is Earth's Ionosphere?

Earth’s ionosphere is part of our planet’s upper atmosphere, sitting between 50 and 400 miles above the surface. Throughout the day, sunlight comes into contact with the field, electrically charging it in the process.

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A depiction of Earth's ionosphere drawn by an artist

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As sunlight strikes the ionosphere, electrons are knocked off atoms and molecules, creating a unique soup of particles called plasma. This plasma is the source of the unusual X and C spades witnessed by the GOLD instrument.

Could the Discovery Improve Radio Communication?

The discovery of these shapes dancing around in the ionosphere has led some researchers to suggest they could revolutionize radio communications and weather forecasting in space, potentially enhancing their effectiveness.

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In previous studies, researchers determined that merging plasma led to the creation of X shapes in the wake of solar storms and enormous volcanic eruptions.

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New Data on Observable Shapes in the Ionosphere

New data published in The Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics explained the shapes can also form in what the researchers deem “quiet times.”

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Shapes in the sky formed by the Northern Lights

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This suggests that certain localized factors can also influence the appearance of shapes in the ionosphere. In their study, the researchers noted that computer models have shown that lower atmospheric conditions could potentially pull the plasma downwards.

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NASA Researcher Shares Opinion Emergence of Shapes

Fazlul Laskar, an ionosphere physicist at the University of Colorado who co-authored the paper, shared a statement with NASA, explaining, “Earlier reports of merging were only during geomagnetically disturbed conditions.”

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He continued, “It is an unexpected feature during geomagnetic quiet conditions.”

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Formation of C Shapes Leaves Researchers Puzzled

Researchers have been left puzzled by the rarer C- and reverse C-shaped bubbles in the plasma of the ionosphere. Initially, they were thought to have been created by winds on Earth.

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However, GOLD has captured images of these C’s forming close together, sometimes as little as 400 miles apart. Again, this suggests more localized factors are behind the creation of the mysterious shapes, with some postulating tornadoes as a source.

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Rare C Shapes in the Ionosphere

While the groups of C shapes remain very sparse at the moment, researchers have revealed they will continue to investigate the phenomena, hoping to better understand what’s behind their appearance in the ionosphere.

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A depiction of rare lights pictured above the Earth

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“Within that close proximity, these two opposite-shaped plasma bubbles had never been thought of, never been imaged,” said ionosphere physicist Deepak Karan from the University of Colorado.

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Astrophysicist Shares His Thoughts on the Mysterious Shapes

Astrophysicist Jeffrey Klenzing from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, who wasn’t directly involved in the study, shared his thoughts on the various shapes observed in the ionosphere.

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“The fact that we have very different shapes of bubbles this close together tells us that the dynamics of the atmosphere are more complex than we expected.”

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Further Studies on the Unusual Shapes

Plasma in the ionosphere plays a pivotal role in enabling radio waves to travel long distances, so any disruption will negatively affect Earth’s communication and navigational infrastructure.

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Researchers working on the GOLD mission are committed to continuing their exploration of the ionosphere. It is possible that the mysterious shapes may lead to further discoveries that will, in turn, help scientists improve radio communications and space weather forecasts.

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