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Photos of ‘mysterious red glow’ wrongly linked to Pakistan earthquake

Images shared almost an hour after a 6.5-magnitude quake shook northern Pakistan


Claim: A group of photos taken in March 2023 show a “mysterious red glow” over the Atlantic shortly after a powerful earthquake hit Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.

Fact: The images are not from 2023 but from July 2022. They were taken by American pilot Dustin Maggard on 16 July 2022 during a flight 31,000 feet above the North Pacific Ocean. Weather modelling expert Dr Neil Jacobs confirmed that the glow came from powerful LED lights used by fishing vessels.

At 10:42 PM on 21 March 2023, user @hamza_jamshed05 posted on Twitter a visual (archive) comprising three images, apparently taken from an aeroplane, showing a red glow seen among clouds.

The tweet was captioned as follows:

“Something strange happening around the globe. Mysterious red glow seen over the Atlantic. The pilot that spotted the phenomenon said he’s never seen anything like it. Photo taken March 2023~ #earthquakes #زلزلہ”

The tweet came approximately an hour after a severe earthquake jolted the northwestern areas of Pakistan, at precisely 9:49 PM (archive), according to the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC).

The quake — measured 6.5 on the Richter magnitude scale and an epicentre 40 kilometres southeast of Jurm, Afghanistan, near the borders with Pakistan and Tajikistan — left at least nine dead and 44 injured, according to a report (archive) that cited a government official.

Fact or Fiction?

When Soch Fact Check reverse-searched the images, we found multiple news reports from July 2022, including this one from CNN (archive), which states that American pilot Dustin Maggard took the photos on 16 July 2022 while flying 31,000 feet above the North Pacific Ocean.

“We had no idea what we were looking at. We were making jokes about being in the middle of some sort of military exercise or some sort of alien invasion,” Maggard told CNN.

The outlet spoke to Dr Neil Jacobs — a weather modelling expert, former acting administrator of the US Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and ex-assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction — who said the glow came from powerful LED lights used by fishing vessels.

Now the chief science advisor for the Unified Forecast System (UFS), an effort by the scientific community to develop a comprehensive, open-source Earth modelling system, Dr Jacobs stated, “They were commercial fishing vessels that were fishing for Pacific saury using very bright red arrays of LED lights.”

“You can literally see them from outer space,” he said.

Dr Jacobs also demonstrated using Global Fishing Watch, a website that shows a global view of commercial fishing activities, by inputting the flight’s location and date and matching them with the ships in the sea below.

The France 24 Observers, or Les Observateurs, a signatory of the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), published the following comment by Dr Jacobs:

“Traditionally, these ships used high pressure sodium or metal halide lights, but those are extremely inefficient and very costly.  They are also limited in which color wavelengths they can emit.  These ships use onboard generators to create electricity, so you can imagine how expensive the fuel costs would be to produce all of this light for several hours every night.  Once LEDs hit the market, they were quickly adapted to this application because not only were they exceptionally efficient, but you can switch between various colors of light.  This meant that the vessels could just move north, and with the flip of a switch, change from white or blue [to attract squid] to red light [to attract saury].”


The tweet by @hamza_jamshed05 was viewed close to 30,000 times and received 13 comments, 53 retweets, and 148 likes.

Soch Fact Check also found that Weather Updates PK / Karachi Doppler also shared the same on its Twitter account here (archive).

We found Facebook posts here, here, here, and here.

Conclusion: The images were taken by American pilot Dustin Maggard on 16 July 2022 during a flight 31,000 feet above the North Pacific Ocean. The glow comes from powerful LED lights used by fishing vessels, according to weather modelling expert Dr Neil Jacobs.

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