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Old 03-27-2012
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Re: Pictures: Glowing Blue Waves Explained

When taking zooplankton samples it's standard practice to have the sample storage jars (usually 500 ml) ready, about 10% full of saturated formalin solution. If the sampling is done at night, the nets and associated gear will often come up from the water sparkling, sometimes even glowing a bit, with bioluminescence. But the real show happens when the plankton sample is dropped into the jar with the formalin. As soon as the sample hits the formalin, and is gently swirled around a bit to mix the formalin into the rest of the jar, everything in the sample with any bioluminescent properties will glow "full power" for about 10 or 20 seconds. The collective effect is kind of like looking at 50 or 60 watt light bulb; Not only can one easily read by the light, but I've often experienced the sort of "ghosting" one might expect after looking directly into a flashlight, or after a camera flash goes off. Of course, the bioluminescence starts to diminish pretty quickly, and within a minute or so everything in the jar is dead and dark (and on the way to the lab).
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