According to experts, a newly designed laser tool will aid NASA in its quest for clues of alien life on distant planets and moons.
According to a study published Jan. 16 in the journal Nature and an accompanying news release, the high-tech instrument built by University of Maryland researchers for NASA weighs just around 17 pounds, making it light enough to carry with you on space exploration.
According to the researchers, the instrument consists of two primary components: a UV laser for carving off samples from a planet’s surface and an ion analyzer for providing precise information on the materials’ chemical makeup.
According to the researchers, the analyzer, which is 100 times more powerful than equivalent equipment used on space missions, is designed to identify trace quantities of organic material, such as microfossils, from extremely minute surface samples. It is also inconspicuous, which reduces the chance of sample contamination.
“It took us eight years to build a prototype that can be deployed efficiently in space — substantially smaller and less resource-intensive, but yet capable of cutting-edge research,” stated co-author Ricardo Arevalo in one release statement.
The laser, which generates more than three times the energy of the ExoMars rover’s laser, will allow NASA to analyze bigger molecules, which are more likely to represent leftovers of biological processes, according to the researchers. So, rather of researching tiny components such as amino acids, which do not always imply life, the gadget will make it simpler to analyze more complicated substances such as proteins.
The new laser tool “has the potential to dramatically alter the way we now investigate the geochemistry or astrobiology of a planet’s surface,” according to Arevalo.
Researchers anticipate that the new technology will be used in space within the next several years.
According to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, Enceladus, a tiny moon circling Saturn, is a great target for such a life-finding expedition. NASA’s equipment may easily reach a warm ocean running under its surface, which might include a variety of biomarkers.
Biomarkers, which have lately been identified on the surfaces of several celestial bodies, have piqued the interest of academics all around the world.
According to the European Space Agency, a chemical thought to imply life was detected on a comet in 2017. According to a 2021 research published in the International Journal of Astrobiology, fungus biomarkers have been found on Martian rocks even after almost a year of exposure to low-orbit conditions.
The molecules deemed biomarkers, however, are not fixed. Oxygen was formerly assumed to be a “essential indicator for life on extrasolar planets,” but a 2015 study published in Scientific Reports called that theory into question.
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