A series of missions will be launched over the next few decades that will be designed to detect and characterize extrasolar planets around nearby stars. These missions will search for habitable environments and signs of life (biosignatures) in planetary spectra. The vegetation's "red edge," an enhancement in the Earth's spectrum near 700 nm when sunlight is reflected from greenery, is often suggested as a tool in the search for life in terrestrial-like extrasolar planets. Here, through ground-based observations of the Earth's spectrum, satellite observations of clouds, and an advanced atmospheric radiative-transfer code, we determine the temporal evolution of the vegetation signature of Earth. We find a strong correlation between the evolution of the spectral intensity of the red edge and changes in the cloud-free vegetated area over the course of observations. This relative increase for our single day corresponds to an apparent reflectance change of about 0.0050 ± 0.0005 with respect to the mean albedo of 0.25 at 680 nm (2.0% ± 0.2%). The excellent agreement between models and observations motivated us to probe more deeply into the red-edge detectability using real cloud observations at longer timescales. Overall, we find the evolution of the red-edge signal in the globally averaged spectra to be weak, and only attributable to vegetation changes when the real land and cloud distributions for the day are known. However, it becomes prominent under certain Sun-Earth-Moon orbital geometries that are applicable to the search for life in extrasolar planets. Our results indicate that vegetation detection in Earth-like planets will require a considerable level of instrumental precision and will be a difficult task, but not as difficult as the normally weak earthshine signal might seem to suggest.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Space and Planetary Science