Skip to main content

Sunlight Glints Off Surface of Oil Slick

At 3 p.m. EDT on May 18, NASA's Aqua satellite swept over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill from its vantage point in space and the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer instrument captured sunglints in a visible image of the spill. (Image credit: NASA/Goddard/MODIS Rapid Response Team)

The sun's rays were seen glinting off the surface of the massive oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico by the eyes of a NASA satellite.

A visible-light image, obtained by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer instrument aboard NASA's Aqua satellite, showed three bright areas of sunglint within the area of the gray-beige colored spill.

Sunglint is a mirror-like reflection of the sun off the water's surface.

In calm waters, the rounded image of the sun would be seen in a satellite image. However, the waves in the Gulf blurred the reflection and created an appearance of three bright areas in a line on the ocean's surface.

In this image, bright oil slicks appear east and southeast of the Mississippi Delta. Not all of the colored water in the image is tainted by oil though; along the left edge of the image, the camel-toned water is probably freshwater filled with sediment.

Worries have mounted in recent days that the oil could be swept up into a current that would bring it closer to Florida and the fragile coral reefs of the Caribbean. According to the May 18 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) web update of the Deepwater Horizon incident, "satellite imagery on May 17 indicated that the main bulk of the oil is dozens of miles away from the Loop Current, but that a tendril of light oil has been transported down close to the Loop Current."

For the science geek in everyone, Live Science offers a fascinating window into the natural and technological world, delivering comprehensive and compelling news and analysis on everything from dinosaur discoveries, archaeological finds and amazing animals to health, innovation and wearable technology. We aim to empower and inspire our readers with the tools needed to understand the world and appreciate its everyday awe.