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The new Google Maps1 presents an actual view of Earth, with the current position of Sun illuminating half part of Earth in real time. It is quite an exquisite view.

My question is based on the following image:

Earth

As you can see, Sun's reflection from southern Atlantic Ocean looks very charming. But does it really happen like that? If we travel far2 from Earth, can we actually see Sun's reflection or it is just something Google added for aesthetics?


1: Yes, I don't like most of its new features too, especially when they broke several of the old ones. But that's a separate discussion.

2: Although, the camera's supposed position would be close to geostationary orbit, I guess the reflection can also been seen as close as ISS or Hubble.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think BillOer nailed it, and looking at a few pictures, ISS is a lot closer so it doesn't catch a small ball of light like that, it's more spread out, but with the curvature of the earth, like a convex mirror: smsm2a2012.weebly.com/uploads/1/0/5/0/10506713/6545636_orig.jpg - that makes sense. The rough surface of the ocean is what spreads out and dulls the sun and the atmosphere turns it yellow when the sun is actually white. Hubble, by the way, doesn't point towards the earth. It's not designed to do that. It's a very narrow focused lens and it couldn't capture wide angle. $\endgroup$ – userLTK Jun 20 '15 at 6:55
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    $\begingroup$ Looks like bad simulation. At 50° or more from direction of photon influx, that circular glint should look quite oval. $\endgroup$ – Wayfaring Stranger Jun 20 '15 at 11:02
  • $\begingroup$ Come to think of it, isn't a glint always near 90° from the terminator? $\endgroup$ – Wayfaring Stranger Jun 26 '15 at 12:44
  • $\begingroup$ So, is it actually sunglint, or is it, as @WayfaringStranger remarked, a virtual sunglint added by Google? $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Jul 10 '18 at 4:45
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It's called sunglint. This can be problematic for Earth-observing satellites in low Earth orbit. Such satellites typically don't take a "picture". They instead continuously scan the Earth a line at a time. This means the sunglint moves with the satellite.

You can see this effect yourself while flying in an airplane. Little ribbons of rivers and lakes can appear to be on fire. Here's a nice short YouTube video that shows this perfectly.

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Yes. A web search for "photo sun glint space" turns up a number of images, including this one.

enter image description here

(I really wanted to just say "Yes." with the photo, but it wouldn't accept it.)

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I think what this photo is actually capturing is the reflection of the sun off of the ocean's surface. Were the sun over a landmass, I don't think this "reflection" would be seen.

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Most probably not! But that being said, it also depends on "how far" you have travelled above the surface. The earth is surrounded by a multitude of different things at different levels from the ground, like clouds, smoke, satellites and satellite-debris etc. which we come across progressively on the outward journey.

At lower levels we may get a somewhat clearer view of the reflection, which typically would not be a complete spherical reflection but a bunch of rays/ glints, or a blurred bright light cloud. But as we progress further, most probably this view would be blocked out by the above mentioned factors. And in case of clear-skies too, a spherical reflection is highly unlikely considering the distance between the sun and the earth.

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"... Sun's reflection from southern Atlantic Ocean looks very charming. But does it really happen like that?".

Exactly as shown in your Screenshot?, no.

Assuming a large reflective surface, like a calm ocean, you get a 'virtual image' where the Sun appears reflected from a point underwater; but the wavyness and imperfections make the reflection diffused.

Sun reflecting off of the Earth

Source: http://www.physicsclassroom.com/class/refln/Lesson-4/Reflection-and-Image-Formation-for-Convex-Mirrors .

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