In the year of the 30th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope, there have been many stunning images coming down to us humble inhabitants of the Earth.
The European Space Agency (ESA) announced that Hubble has observed a total lunar eclipse, becoming the first space-focused telescope to focus on events. It was also the first time that an ultraviolet eclipse was studied, for a study to be published in Astronomical Magazine.
The telescope was trained in the eclipse with a method that NASA and ESA hope will serve “as a representative of how they will observe Earth-like planets around other stars in search of life.” During a total lunar eclipse, the alignment of the three bodies involved is similar to what happens when an exoplanet passes through its local star. So for this study of the Earth, Hubble looked only at the Moon during an eclipse, observing sunlight that has been filtered through the Earth̵7;s atmosphere to search for ozone.
However, there are significant challenges to training the telescope on our Moon. “The Moon is so close to Earth that Hubble had to try to keep a steady eye on a selected region, to follow exactly the Moon’s motion in relation to space observation,” the statement said. “Forsaken for these reasons that Hubble has been shown very rarely on the Moon.”
The data revealed the “strong ozone fingerprint spectrum” when using the moon as a mirror for the Earth’s atmosphere. This is important because it is a key sign of the possibility of development or the presence of life. “Finding ozone in the spectrum of an exo-Earth would be significant because it is a photochemical byproduct of molecular oxygen, which is a byproduct of life,” said Allison Youngblood, lead researcher at Hubble Laboratories for Atmospheric Physics and Atmospheric Physics in Colorado.
It is an excellent step, but it is not enough to determine if there is life on an exoplanet. The soon-to-be-launched James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will be able to continue this research in new and exciting ways. “We expect JWST to push the transmission spectroscopy technique to unprecedented limits,” said Antonio Garcia Munoz of the Technische Universität Berlin. “In particular, it will have the capacity to detect methane and oxygen in the atmosphere of planets orbiting nearby stars of small size. This will open the field of atmospheric characterization to increasingly smaller exoplanets.”
Between the launch of many Mars rovers in July, including NASA’s insistence, and studies like this, many agencies are deep in search of life beyond the barrier of Earth’s atmosphere.