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The study of exoplanets has matured considerably in the last ten years. During this time, the majority of the over 4000 exoplanets that are currently known to us were discovered. It was also during this time that the process has started to shift from the process of discovery to characterization. What’s more, next-generation instruments will allow for studies that will reveal a great deal about the surfaces and atmospheres of exoplanets.
This naturally raises the question: what would a sufficiently-advanced species see if they were studying our planet? Using multi-wavelength data of Earth, a team of Caltech scientists was able to construct a map of what Earth would look like to distant alien observers. Aside from addressing the itch of curiosity, this study could also help astronomers reconstruct the surface features of “Earth-like” exoplanets in the future.
Study - Team - Findings - Earth - Exoplanet
The study that describes the team’s findings, titled “Earth as an Exoplanet: A Two-dimensional Alien Map“, recently appeared in the journal Science Mag and is scheduled for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. The study was led by Siteng Fan and included multiple researchers from the California Institute of Technology’s Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences (GPS) and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
When looking for potentially habitable planets beyond our Solar System, scientists are forced to take the indirect approach. Given that most exoplanets cannot be observed directly to learn of their atmospheric composition or surface features (aka. Direct Imaging), scientists must be satisfied with indications that show how “Earth-like” a planet is.
Fan - Universe - Today - Email - Limitations
As Fan told Universe Today via email, this reflects the limitations that astronomers and exoplanet studies are currently forced to contend with:
“Firstly, current exoplanet studies have not figured out what the least requirements are for habitability. There are some proposed criterions, but we are not sure if they are either sufficient or necessary....
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