Scientists at CSU have observed the rare phenomenon of massive glowing areas of ocean known as milky seas, but only from satellites orbiting miles above the Earth.

Now, for the first time, milky seas have been documented from the surface of the ocean and from space at the same time.

In a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Steven Miller, director of CSU’s CIRA – Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere – compares satellite images of a 2019 milky sea event off the coast of Java to photographic evidence from the Ganesha, a 16-meter private yacht sailing in the area at the time.

The crew of the Ganesha described the sea as a “luminous snowfield,” but unsure of what they had encountered, they provided CSU their images because of its expertise in satellite observations.

According to the captain of the Ganesha, the glow appeared to be emanating from below the surface, perhaps as deep as 30 feet. A bucket of water drawn from the glowing sea contained many pinpoints of steady light, instead of the flashing or sparkling light observed in more common forms of marine bioluminescence.

The observations from the Ganesha suggest that, rather than a “surface slick” of glowing material, milky seas happen over a much deeper volume.

Knowing how the ocean appears from the surface gives researchers more context on what they’re seeing from space and new opportunities to study one of the rarest and most mysterious happenings in the ocean.