Cosmic Colors

The Milky Way and many stars shine through trees

Can you paint with all the colors of… the climate?!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Looking for a vacation home… on another planet? Earth isn’t the only planet where life — like us — can kick back! But how can we tell if a planet has a friendly climate?

Even with giant telescopes, astronomers see distant planets as tiny specks of color. Can that COLOR tell us about a planet’s livability?

Jack Madden and Lisa Kaltenegger at Cornell University are cracking the cosmic climate color code. These astronomers created virtual planets on a computer. Each fantasy planet had a different landscape, sky, and sun. Sunlight contains many colors. The computer calculated how different colors of sunlight heated the planets and reflected into space.

The results? Jungle planets reflected a deep red, while water worlds were blue. Cloudy planets were brightest! Whenever water or oxygen was present, shades of orange and red vanished. Astronomers can use these clues to find REAL planets with life-bearing real estate.

Looking for little red aliens? Try the little red planets!