THE MOON has been used as a gigantic mirror by scientists on the hunt for other habitable planets.
Their aim was to observe what chemical signatures Earth is giving off in space so they know what to look for in their quest for alien-life supporting exoplanets.
Nasa and ESA scientists used the Hubble Space Telescope to capture a reflection of Earth when sunlight bounced off the lunar surface during an eclipse.
The reflection highlighted what chemical signatures our atmosphere gives off in space.
Now they can use space telescopes to see if planets spotted in other galaxies give off similar chemical signatures.
Nasa said: "Taking advantage of a total lunar eclipse, astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have detected Earth's own brand of sunscreen – ozone – in our atmosphere.
"This method simulates how astronomers and astrobiology researchers will search for evidence of life beyond Earth by observing potential "biosignatures" on exoplanets (planets around other stars).
"Hubble did not look at Earth directly. Instead, the astronomers used the Moon as a mirror to reflect sunlight, which had passed through Earth's atmosphere, and then reflected back towards Hubble.
"Using a space telescope for eclipse observations reproduces the conditions under which future telescopes would measure atmospheres of transiting exoplanets.
"These atmospheres may contain chemicals of interest to astrobiology, the study of and search for life."
Similar ground-based observations have been done before but this is the first time a reflection was captured at ultraviolet wavelengths from a space telescope.
This was said to give scientists a better look at Earth's "ozone fingerprint".
Hubble scientist Allison Youngblood worked on the study.
She said: "One of NASA’s major goals is to identify planets that could support life.
"But how would we know a habitable or an uninhabited planet if we saw one?"
Her study has been published in The Astronomical Journal.
The Moon – our closest neighbour explained
Here's what you need to know…
- The Moon is a natural satellite – a space-faring body that orbits a planet
- It's Earth's only natural satellite, and is the fifth biggest in the Solar System
- The Moon measures 2,158 miles across, roughly 0.27 times the diameter of Earth
- Temperatures on the Moon range from minus 173 degrees Celcius to 260 degrees Celcius
- Experts assumed the Moon was another planet, until Nicolaus Copernicus outlined his theory about our Solar System in 1543
- It was eventually assigned to a "class" after Galileo discovered four moons orbiting Jupiter in 1610
- The Moon is believed to have formed around 4.51billion years ago
- The strength of its gravitational field is about a sixth of Earth's gravity
- Earth and the Moon have "synchronous rotation", which means we always see the same side of the Moon – hence the phrase "dark side of the Moon"
- The Moon's surface is actually dark, but appears bright in the sky due to its reflective ground
- During a solar eclipse, the Moon covers the Sun almost completely. Both objects appear a similar size in the sky because the Sun is both 400 times larger and farther
- The first spacecraft to reach the Moon was in 1959, as part of the Soviet Union's Lunar program
- The first manned orbital mission was Nasa's Apollo 8 in 1968
- And the first manned lunar landing was in 1969, as part of the Apollo 11 mission
In other space news, Nasa' Curiosity Mars rover celebrated its eighth anniversary on the Red Planet this week.
Elon Musk announced that SpaceX's mission to get man on Mars is now the company's "top priority".
And, Nasa has revealed the design of a moon lander that could be taking astronauts back to the lunar surface by 2024.
What do you think of the 'Moon mirror' concept? Let us know in the comments…
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