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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.

Stacey Abrams launches second campaign for Georgia governor

Photo: Eze Amos/Getty Images

Stacey Abrams, voting rights activist and former 2018 candidate for Georgia governor, is running for the position again in 2022. Abrams would be the first Black female governor in the country.

Why it matters: Abrams caught national attention in 2018 by narrowly losing an election to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in a state held firmly by the GOP for nearly two decades.

First known U.S. case of Omicron variant identified in California

Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks during the daily briefing at the White House on Dec. 1. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

The first known U.S. case of the Omicron variant was detected in California, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Wednesday.

Driving the news: The confirmed case was detected in a traveler returning from South Africa who was fully vaccinated and has mild symptoms, according to the CDC.