Detecting alien life: NASA unveils test for organisms on distant planets
The search for life on other planets is no easy undertaking, however the boffins at NASA have just announced a test that will make the titanic probing for extra-terrestrial lifeforms a little easier.
Scientists have developed a chemistry test, known as capillary electrophoresis, specifically designed to analyze for amino acids, the building blocks of all life on Earth, and perhaps life on similar planets.
The technique designed in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in California is 10,000 times more sensitive than current methods used to detect other lifeforms.
To carry out the analysis, researchers combined a liquid sample with a liquid reagent (a mixture for use in chemical analysis), they then blasted a laser across the mixture, allowing them to observe molecules moving at different speeds.
As Peter Willis, principal investigator of the project, explains: “Using our method, we are able to tell the difference between amino acids that come from non-living sources like meteorites versus amino acids that come from living organisms."
The tests were conducted in Mono Lake, California, known for it’s high salt content, making it an extremely hostile environment for life, and was chosen to mimic the expected conditions on Mars, the eerie moons of Jupiter and Saturn and unexplored worlds beyond our solar system.