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,

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