NASA uses sunlight that passes through the Earth’s atmosphere and reflects from the moon to analyze our planet’s atmosphere,media reported. The experiment is a proof of concept that suggests we may be able to detect life in other worlds by analyzing light through its atmosphere. The Hubble telescope has done a bit of scientific work with a total lunar eclipse that could be used in the future to detect life in other worlds.
As NASA reports in a new blog post and video, Hubble is able to use the moon as a “mirror” that reflects the beam through the Earth’s atmosphere. By analyzing the wavelengths of light that bounces from the moon’s surface through our planet’s atmosphere, researchers were able to detect the presence of ozone in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Of course, we already know that there is ozone around the earth, but this observation is an experiment. The researchers’ idea is that by analyzing the light emitted through the atmospheres of distant exoplanets, they may be able to detect habitable worlds, even to be sure that some of them are supporting life.
Despite the challenges of measuring the light that bounces off the moon, the experiment worked well because the moon’s colors were uneven. Proving that the aging Hubble could detect the presence of ozone around the Earth without looking at the Earth offers hope for more high-powered telescopes that will take on the task of studying exoplanets.
Hubble did not observe the Earth directly. Instead, astronomers use the moon as a mirror that reflects sunlight that passes through the Earth’s atmosphere and then to Hubble. The total lunar eclipse was observed using the space telescope, which reproduces the conditions of future telescopes to measure the atmospheres of exoplanets. These atmospheres may contain chemicals of interest to astrobiology, namely, research and search for life.
Astronomers have used telescopes to study the atmospheres of some exoplanets, but the goal of this work is usually more analytical gas giant planets. The rocky world of Earth is much smaller, making it more challenging to detect light passing through its atmosphere.