Understanding a lot of the mysteries of our universe starts here on our planet, literally. One of the big questions we have about our vast universe centers around the idea of finding Earth-like planets beyond our solar system.
First and foremost, it would be good to know if another Earth-like planet we can call home is out there, with some even arguing that space colonization is crucial to our survival. Secondly, if a planet exists out there that supports life, maybe there is life on the planet already, answering the age-old question; are we alone in the universe?
As a means to better understand the potential planets that are capable of supporting life beyond our Solar System, two astronomers from McGill University did something interesting. They created a “fingerprint” for the Earth, which could be used to identify these types of planets.
Think of it like online dating. You list a series of traits about yourself with the aim of eventually finding someone that shares or at least come close to your interests. The astronomers' breakdown the study further in their academic paper published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Finding a match
Creating this Earthly fingerprint was no easy feat. The dynamic duo utilized over a decade of observations of Earth's atmosphere taken by the SCISAT satellite to construct a transit spectrum of Earth. This here is our fingerprint. It is a glimpse of Earth's atmosphere in infrared light, which shows the presence of key molecules in the search for habitable worlds.
One, in particular, is of special importance, methane. Researchers expect to only see the existence of methane when a distant planet has organic sources of these compounds. In short, researchers are out there looking for 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," stated Prof. Cowan. "This is what alien astronomers would see if they observed a transit of Earth."
As hinted at above this new tool could it make easier for astronomers to find more Earth-like exoplanets, potentially planting the seeds of colonization in the distant future? It will be interesting to see what new Earth-like planets await us.
Hopefully, we will find a match soon.