US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — The search for life elsewhere in the Universe continues, but such is the vast area of the cosmos that any useful tips pointing us to planets that are most likely habitable are really useful – and scientists believe that they just discovered one more clue.
A new study outlines what scientists call a climatic “decoder,” whereby measurements of surface colors and starlight reflections observed on planets could help us figure out whether they can sustain life or not.
Based on previous models of climate and chemistry, as well as observations of other stars and planets, the methods invented by astronomers can serve as a guide to what the climate of a distant planet looks like.
In other words, the light or spectra that our telescopes see from the Earth can be effectively turned into a code for the atmospheric conditions of planets outside our solar system.
“We looked at how different planetary surfaces in the habitable zones of remote solar systems can affect the climate of exoplanets,” says scientist Jack Madden of the Carl Sagan Institute.
“The reflected light on the surface of the planets plays an important role not only for the general climate, but also for the detectable spectra of terrestrial planets.”
The key to this calculation is the albedo of the planet, or the amount of light and radiation that it reflects. The team compares the method with wearing a black or white T-shirt – one absorbs light and retains heat, while the other reflects and keeps cool.
The same applies to planets – their surface, atmospheric conditions and the light incident on the planet from the nearest star contribute to the climate and how conditions are suitable for life.
“Depending on the type of star and the primary color of the planet – or the reflecting albedo – we can determine how much the planet can soften part of the energy released by the star,” says astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger of the Karl Sagan Institute.
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