Ever since 1992, when astronomers first discovered two rocky planets orbiting a pulsar in the constellation Virgo, humans have known that other worlds exist beyond our solar system. Today, thanks to the efforts of astronomers and ambitious missions like the now-retired Kepler, we know of more than 4,000 confirmed exoplanets.
But if we can see exoplanets orbiting distant stars, that means extraterrestrial observers should be able to see Earth orbiting the Sun. Our tiny blue marble even could be on an alien astronomer’s list of rocky exoplanets capable of harboring life.
That’s a speculative scenario, of course, but it’s one astronomers still take seriously. In multiple papers over the years, they’ve identified which exoplanets would be able to spot Earth. And now, with updated information from the European Space Agency’s expansive Gaia catalog of nearby stars, two researchers have provided us with perhaps the best list yet of which alien worlds could have their eyes on us.
It began with a few simple questions, says Joshua Pepper, an astronomer at Lehigh University and coauthor of the recent paper, published in October in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
“What if there were intelligent beings on another planet? And if they were looking at the Earth, which of those star systems could they be living in that would enable them to see Earth?” he says.
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