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NASA uses Earth as a laboratory to study distant worlds

28 June 2018

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The study of exoplanets -- planets that lie outside our solar system - could help scientists answer big questions about our place in the universe, and whether life exists beyond Earth. But, these distant worlds are extremely faint and difficult to image directly. A new study uses Earth as a stand-in for an exoplanet, and shows that even with very little light - as little as one pixel - it is still possible to measure key characteristics of distant worlds.

The new study uses data from NASA's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) instrument, which is onboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR, satellite. DSCOVR goes around the Sun at Lagrange point 1, a specific orbit that provides EPIC with a constant view of our home planet's sunlit surface. EPIC has been observing Earth continuously since June 2015, producing nuanced maps of the planet's surface in multiple wavelengths, and contributing to studies of climate and weather.

Source: NASA

Image credit: NASA/NOAA/JPL-Caltech - This artist's illustration shows an enhanced-color image of Earth from NASA's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) instrument (top). EPIC observes the planet in 10 wavelength bands, shown here as 10 representational-color images (middle). A new study averages data from each EPIC wavelength band down into a single brightness value, or the equivalent of one "single-pixel" image. This allowed the study authors to simulate observations of a distant exoplanet.

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