Scientists have discovered a new way to identify life on other planets using telescopes. Researchers have found that plants and other photosynthetic organisms reflect colored light in peculiar ways which produce a distinctive “light fingerprint” that could be used to identify planets in other galaxies by filtering the lift from their nearby star.
A group of researchers have published their findings in the International Journal of Astrobiology which note that plants and organisms that photosynthesize light have a distinct polarized light spectra that can be detected using a telescope. Researchers noted that the spectra provided “very sensitive” and “unambiguous” detection of plants and other photosynthetic organisms.
“Our results demonstrate that linearly polarized spectra provide very sensitive and rather unambiguous detection of photosynthetic pigments of various kinds. Our work paves the path towards analogous measurements of microorganisms and remote sensing of microbial ecology on the Earth and of extraterrestrial life on other planets and moons.”
Scientists hope that the new research can be used to identify habitable planets or moons in other galaxies. As the Daily Mail points out, “non-reflected light moves in all directions and is not polarized, it means it would be possible to filter out the other light from stars millions of times brighter than the planet orbiting them to search for signs of plant life.” Therefore, it seems that with the new research complete, scientists could filter the non-polarized light from images taken with telescopes and look for the specific polarized spectra pattern that plant life presents. This would provide scientists with the information they need to identify whether or not another planet is home to photosynthetic life forms such as plants.
The researchers claim that current telescopes could be used to study our closest binary star system with an orbiting planet, Alpha Centauri A and B. However, more powerful telescopes would be needed to identify plant life in stars further away. Currently, scientists have only identified one planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B, but have hinted at other possible planets in the system. Sadly, the currently known planet in the Alpha Centauri system is not in habitable zone as it is 10 times closer to its star than Mercury is to our sun. Therefore, it is not a good candidate for the new plant life research unless another planet closer to the habitable zone is found.
What do you think about scientists potentially identifying habitable planets by looking for light signatures of the photosynthesis process? Do you think the research will speed up the identification of life in space beyond Earth?
[Image Credit: NASA]