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Earth seen from orbit at night. Photo: NASA

The Hubble Space Telescope observed Earth as future tools could one day see a distant, alien planet.

Why it matters: These kinds of analogous experiments using Earth in place of an exoplanet (a world orbiting another star) give scientists a chance to see what a habitable planet may look like through telescopes if one is eventually found.

What they did: Researchers used the Hubble Space Telescope to observe the Earth during a total lunar eclipse, allowing the storied telescope to detect ozone, a gas thought to be key to the evolution of life, in our planet's atmosphere.

  • The scientists behind the observations — detailed in a study due to be published in the Astronomical Journal — used the Hubble to look at light that had been filtered through Earth's atmosphere reflected from the Moon.
  • That allowed the researchers to parse out the makeup of our planet's atmosphere in much the same way as future missions could when observing a planet passing across the face of its star.
  • "We want to make sure we know what the Earth, the only habitable and inhabited planet we know of, looks like using the same methods astronomers use for exoplanets," Allison Youngblood, one of the authors of the new study, told me via email.

What's next: Scientists don't yet have the tools in orbit to confirm the discovery of a habitable planet orbiting a distant star, but future missions could one day confirm another Earth-like planet out there in the galaxy.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Oct 20, 2020 - Science

Microsoft and SpaceX partner up to deliver broadband via Starlink satellites


Photo: AaronP/Bauer-Griffin via Getty Images

Microsoft is getting into the space game.

Why it matters: Huge amounts of data pour in from space to Earth each day, and the tech heavyweight sees an opportunity to capitalize on that big data and the growing markets for it.

Facebook to lift political ad ban imposed after November election

Photo Illustration by Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook will finally allow advertisers to resume running political and social issue ads in the U.S. on Thursday, according to a company update.

The big picture: Facebook and rival Google instituted political ad bans to slow the spread of misinformation and curb confusion around the presidential election and its aftermath.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
27 mins ago - Technology

AI is industrializing

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Artificial intelligence is becoming a true industry, with all the pluses and minuses that entails, according to a sweeping new report.

Why it matters: AI is now in nearly every area of business, with the pandemic pushing even more investment in drug design and medicine. But as the technology matures, challenges around ethics and diversity grow.