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Canadian Astronomers Determine Earth’s Fingerprint in Hopes of Finding Habitable Planets Beyond the Solar System

1 Sep 2019, 07:04 UTC
Canadian Astronomers Determine Earth’s Fingerprint in Hopes of Finding Habitable Planets Beyond the Solar System
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Two McGill University astronomers have assembled a “fingerprint” for Earth, which could be used to identify a planet beyond our Solar System capable of supporting life.McGill Physics student Evelyn Macdonald and her supervisor Prof. Nicolas Cowan used over a decade of observations of Earth’s atmosphere taken by the SCISAT satellite to construct a transit spectrum of Earth, a sort of fingerprint for Earth’s atmosphere in infrared light, which shows the presence of key molecules in the search for habitable worlds. This includes the simultaneous presence of ozone and methane, which scientists expect to see only when there is an organic source of these compounds on the planet. Such a detection is called a “biosignature”.“A handful of researchers have tried to simulate Earth’s transit spectrum, but this is the first empirical infrared transit spectrum of Earth,” says Prof. Cowan. “This is what alien astronomers would see if they observed a transit of Earth.”The findings, published Aug. 28 in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, could help scientists determine what kind of signal to look for in their quest to find Earth-like exoplanets (planets orbiting a star other than our Sun). Developed by the Canadian Space Agency, SCISAT was ...

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