Earth seen from orbit. Photo: NASA

Scientists have developed a fingerprint of Earth from space that could one day help identify other habitable worlds light-years from our own.

Why it matters: If researchers find a planet that matched Earth's fingerprint — which shows what Earth would look like in infrared if seen by an alien civilization — out there in the universe, it could indicate they've found a habitable world.

What they did: The fingerprint — detailed in a new study published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society — was created by using data collected by the Atmospheric Chemistry Experiment onboard the SCISAT satellite.

  • That data specifically looks at the composition of Earth's atmosphere as sunlight passes through it, revealing methane, ozone and other molecules that could indicate life.
  • The new work shows Earth's fingerprint in infrared light, which could be particularly useful when hunting for habitable exoplanets using the James Webb Space Telescope, expected to launch in 2021.
"The idea is to be able to understand what we were seeing if we were observing an Earth-like planet. Our model of Earth's spectrum as observed with the James Webb Space Telescope is a benchmark to which spectra of other planets can be compared to understand how similar their atmospheres are to ours."
— Evelyn Macdonald, a co-author of the study, to Axios

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In pictures: Storm Zeta churns inland after lashing Louisiana

Debris on the streets as then-Hurricane Zeta passes over in Arabi, Louisiana, on Oct. 28. It's the third hurricane to hit Louisiana in about two months, after Laura and Delta. Photo: Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

Tropical Storm Zeta has killed at least two people, triggered flooding, downed powerlines and caused widespread outages since making landfall in Louisiana as a Category 2 hurricane on Wednesday.

The big picture: A record 11 named storms have made landfall in the U.S. this year. Zeta is the fifth named storm to do so in Louisiana in 2020, the most ever recorded. It weakened t0 a tropical storm early Thursday, as it continued to lash parts of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle with heavy rains and strong winds.

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Taiwan reaches a record 200 days with no local coronavirus cases

Catholics go through containment protocols including body-temperature measurement and hands-sanitisation before entering the Saint Christopher Parish Church, Taipei City, Taiwan, in July. Photo: Ceng Shou Yi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Taiwan on Thursday marked no locally transmitted coronavirus cases for 200 days, as the island of 23 million people's total number of infections reported stands at 550 and the COVID-19 death toll at seven.

Why it matters: Nowhere else has reached such a milestone. While COVID-19 cases surge across the U.S. and Europe, Taiwan's last locally transmitted case was on April 12. Experts credit tightly regulated travel, early border closure, "rigorous contact tracing, technology-enforced quarantine and universal mask wearing" and the island state's previous experience with the SARS virus for the achievement, per Bloomberg.

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