Though astronomers have indirectly detected thousands of exoplanets, they are just starting to get fuzzy pictures of the orbs themselves. But what can they learn from just a few pixels of light? It turns out that the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), a space-weather satellite with a controversial past, is answering those questions right now, says Stephen Kane, an exoplanet scientist at San Francisco State University in California. "We can get a significant advance preview of what those data will look like, because we now have a satellite that is staring directly at Earth."
Those observations are in jeopardy, however, with news today that the proposed budget of U.S. President Donald Trump seeks to kill Earth-facing instruments on DSCOVR years before the mission ends. It would be a setback for exoplanet research, Kane says. "We're enormously disappointed to hear this news."
Perched between the gravitational pull of the sun and Earth, DSCOVR, which was launched in 2015, primarily serves as a space-weather buoy, giving advance notice of inbound solar storms. But it also has two instruments that peer back at Earth and capture the entire planet with the aim of detecting long-term trends in the planet's balance of incoming and outgoing energy, along with long-term shifts in its clouds, aerosols, and ozone.