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Extending the Astrobiological ‘Red Edge’

12 Jul 2019, 17:08 UTC
Extending the Astrobiological ‘Red Edge’
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

A useful exercise for learning how to look for life elsewhere is to try to find it right here on Earth. Thus Carl Sagan’s observations of our planet via data taken during the 1993 flyby of the Galileo spacecraft, which was doing a gravity assist maneuver enroute to Jupiter. Sagan and team found pigments on the Earth’s surface with a sharply defined edge in the red part of the spectrum. What he was looking at was the reflection of light off vegetation. The ‘red edge’ has become well known in astrobiology circles and is considered a potential biosignature.
On Earth, vegetation is the most abundant reflecting surface indicating life (vegetation covers about 60% of present-day Earth’s land surface). The increase in reflectance shows up at about 700 nm, varying in strength depending upon the species of plant. But as Jack O’Malley-James and Lisa Kaltenegger (Cornell University/Carl Sagan Institute) point out, photosynthetic structures containing chlorophyll are found not just in vegetation but also in lichens, corals, algae and cyanobacteria.
This is helpful, because for anyone looking at the early Earth, the vegetation red edge would have been apparent only after the advent of land plants, while if we can ...

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