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Light Off Distant Oceans

17 Sep 2010, 14:27 UTC
Light Off Distant Oceans
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While we’re this early in the game of detecting life signs from distant planets, it makes sense to focus on surface habitability, which is why oceans are so interesting. Sure, we can imagine potential biospheres under the ice of a Europa or even an Enceladus, but given the state of our instrumentation and the distance of our target, going after the most likely catch makes sense, and that means looking for oceans. Significant work from the EPOXI mission has given us some of the parameters for studying a planet like ours using multi-wavelength photometry.
EPOXI, you’ll recall, is the extended mission of the Deep Impact spacecraft that drove an impactor into Comet Tempel 1 in 2005 and is now enroute to Comet Hartley 2. Its views of Earth are being used to help scientists prepare for studies of terrestrial worlds around other stars. Planets with large bodies of water should reflect light from their star differently than dry planets, and as the observed planet goes through its phases as seen from Earth, the changes in that reflectivity can be measured. EPOXI showed us that we can make useful observations at different points in the Earth’s rotation. We’ve also seen specular ...

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