The Atlantic

A New Clue in the Search for Forests on Distant Planets

To find signs of plant life on other worlds, it helps to understand the history of our own.
Source: Goddard Space Flight Center / NASA

Astronomers remotely detected signs of life on a planet for the first time in history in December 1990. “The Galileo spacecraft found evidence of abundant gaseous oxygen, a widely distributed surface pigment with a sharp absorption edge in the red part of the visible spectrum, and atmospheric methane in extreme thermodynamic disequilibrium,” astronomers wrote in a paper in Nature. “Together, these are strongly suggestive of life.”

It wasn’t exactly a major discovery. The planet in question was Earth; at the urging of Carl Sagan,

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic4 min readPolitics
The Atlantic Politics Daily: Impeachment Comes to a Screen Near You
The witness to watch today was William Taylor, who showed up with new information. Plus, a new candidate for Obama’s heir—and for the 2020 Democratic primary?
The Atlantic15 min readPolitics
How Trump’s ‘Green Light’ Moment in Syria Shook the World
During a few wild weeks in October, U.S. allies watched as their own worst nightmare befell America’s Kurdish partners in Syria. Here's what that means for America’s standing in the world.
The Atlantic8 min readPolitics
Boris Johnson Is Not Britain’s Donald Trump. Jeremy Corbyn Is.
Corbyn and Trump are both populists and in a battle with ‘the swamp.’ Brexit aside, Johnson is not.