Did NASA Satellites discover MH370?

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The news of the NASA Satellite might discover the location of the MH370 going viral today over the news and internet. However, based on my experience

It is NEGATIVE. It is the MISINTEPRETATION on the satellite image!

The news based on the NASA Terra RGB True Color Image taken on morning 9 March 2014 which shown below. This is the enhanced 250m resolution image acquired from NASA Rapid Response LANCE Near Real Time Data. Highlighted darker stripe of water is said to be the suspected MH370 location (check the red circle). The white spot in the image is the could, land represented by green and brownish color, deep ocean appear blue, while the coastal water appear milky or greenish.

MODIS Terra Satellite RGB Image on 9 March 2014. Darker stripe in the red circle said to be the possible MH370 location

Why there is a dark stripe of water in the ocean?

That morning, when the satellite passed overhead the South China Sea, the satellite sensor (the camera) captured the reflectance of morning sun light from the ocean, scientist called it Sunglint. It is unfavourable by the ocean color remote sensing scientist as it is causing the error in detecting ocean condition.  It will appear as a thin film of white color on the blue ocean.

At the area of the where there is no sun glint, it will appear darker, and we scientist like to study this area. The reason why it appear darker is that ocean wave doesn’t reflect the sun light directly to the satellite, so there is no interference from the sun reflection. Sunglint is normal phenomena observed by the Earth Observation Satellite. you can read more details about sunglint here.

The darker area that said to be MH370 falling location is incorrect, because as we compare the MODIS Aqua image (on another satellite) on the afternoon 9 March 2014, the darker spot disappear. Please compare the MODIS Aqua image below

MODIS Aqua Satellite RGB Image on 9 March 2014


Can NASA MODIS Satellites Help to detect MH370?

The answer is NO, as the finest resolution (the size per pixel on land) of NASA MODIS Satellite is 250m. Most of the sensor resolution is either 500m or 1km. These satellites were designed for earth observation where it cover large area of earth surface. The resolution of the MODIS satellites sensor unable to identify neither the MH370 plane nor the debris. We need high resolution sensor like quickbird to detect something like the size of the plane.


I understand that many people are very worried and try their best to help finding MH370. I am doing the same thing by checking the daily satellite image everynight to see if I can found something useful to detect MH370. But, we need to be carefully conducting the image analysis when using all this HIGH tech tools as it might cause  disturbance if we unfortunately release the false information. A Chinese version of this article will be prepared as there are widely spread of the news among the Chinese reader.

If you are interested to participate in the crowdsourcing campaign in finding MH370 using the satellite imagery, please kindly check the Tomnod website (please take note that Tomnod server is busy with the overwhelming response from the public)


To start using the Tomnod, this is the article explaining the process of operating, click HERE

Let’s pray for MH370 #PrayForMH370

Satellite image courtesy: http://lance-modis.eosdis.nasa.gov/