Satellite Image Anomaly in Gulf of Thailand

We’ve turned up some Landsat-8 satellite images from the area in the Gulf of Thailand, between Malaysia and Vietnam, where Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 went missing a few days ago.  Landsat images, at 30-meter resolution, are much more detailed than the twice-daily MODIS images at 250m resolution.  The image inset in the map below shows detail from Landsat-8 image P127/R54, taken at 03:27 GMT on March 8.  That’s almost exactly 10 hours after air traffic controllers reported their last contact with Flight MH370 (at 17:30 GMT on Friday, March 7).

Nothing in this image jumps out strongly.  But there is a faint, diffuse, pale anomaly not far west of the general location where we estimate MH370 was when contact was lost.  It appears to be horseshoe-shaped.  

The very approximate center of this is located at 8.551422° N latitude / 102.680976° E longitude.

As best I can tell, this anomaly seems to be high-altitude cloud or smoke; there is an even fainter dark anomaly to the west that suggests a shadow.  But I have to say, this is quite speculative.  It might also be some kind of phytoplankton bloom or other ocean-color feature.  And if it is smoke, 10 hours seems like an awfully long time for it to hang around.  See for yourself:

Faint pale anomaly in Landsat-8 satellite image taken 10 hours after Flight MH370 last had contact with air traffic controllers. See location on map below.  Small white spots are low cumulus clouds (note their matching black shadows offset to the northwest).


Detail from Landsat-8 image (inset) showing location of pale anomaly relative to our estimate of MH370’s flight path (bold orange line) and waypoints discussed in our earlier blog post.


10 replies
  1. BSV says:

    I was just looking at the same images. I don't think your anomaly is smoke or high altitude clouds since it is still visible in the SWIR bands of L8. SWIR tends to penetrate those features so it appears to be something on the ocean surface.

  2. Ron Doe says:

    Wind direction? Could it be possible, that with a very light breeze it has drifted without breaking up too much.
    Second photo, right hand side: Has someone been doing crop circles

  3. BSV says:

    I enhanced the images a bit more, and those are those dark areas to the left appear an awful lot like shadows. Maybe they are clouds, but I seem to recall seeing SWIR data that really could penetrate wispy clouds nicely.

  4. John Amos says:

    BSV – thanks for your image analysis insights. Ron Doe – I think the "crop circles" you're seeing are the navigation tool that Google Earth superimposes on the upper right-hand side of the screen; I usually turn that off because I find it distracting. It does look very crop-circle-ish, doesn't it?

  5. Ron Doe says:

    Whatever is going on, history suggests that this is a "red flag" scenario.
    Conflicting info, such as originally there were 4 "suspicious" passengers, mis-direction, changing stories etc.
    Now all of a sudden, after how many days, some Military Radar apparently shows plane off course, strange altitude, and sudden turn, which of course if correct means that the ones Air Traffic Control use all over the world are about as useful as a two bob watch. (for USA read dime instead of two bob)
    Remember TWA fight blown out of sky in 1996 off New York!!

  6. John Amos says:

    Hopefully we're not looking at a similar scenario as that TWA flight, or the Iranian airliner shot down a few years earlier. But with the recent saber-rattling over territory in the South China Sea, maybe we shouldn't rule this out. Were military maneuvers taking place in the region?

  7. Laban Schnabel says:

    look CLOSELY and you'll see that the "parts" is casting shadows ON the water. = Low and near (not ON) the surface, I GUARANTEE that they are newly forming clouds (cumulus)!
    The white stripes are high, thin clouds (Cirrus)!
    Its obvious. Anyone with an objective mind can clearly see it…
    The imagination is sometimes TOO powerful and clouding ppls judgements!

  8. John Amos says:

    Laban – I'm not sure what you mean by "parts." And we are being objective: please read our blog post carefully. We weren't interested in the small, low, white cumulus clouds in the Landsat image. We were referring to the large, faint, U-shaped hazy feature – shown by the yellow outline – that could be high smoke or haze in the atmosphere, or — because there is no obvious shadow to this feature — a patch of different-colored ocean water. We listed all of those as possibilities, and we didn't make any assertion that this was related to the missing flight MH370.

    Remember, when we posted this image more than two weeks ago, the widely held assumption was that MH370 went down in the Gulf of Thailand shortly after takeoff — with speculation that there may have been a catastrophic fire on board that rapidly incapacitated the crew. Such an event could have left a plume of smoke in the atmosphere, or a thin oil slick on the water, consistent with this indistinct anomaly on the Landsat image.

  9. Mark Howell says:

    In LC81270542014067LGN00_B8.TIF I see an approximatley 170m suspicious target. I changed my mind on it because of other theories and oil rigs close by that must have seen it. It is at 102°36'14.99"E 8°1'38.38"N.

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