How Searching For Alien Life Just Got 10,000 Times Easier


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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Scientists have developed a simple chemical test that’s 10,000 times better at detecting life than current experiments on NASA rovers.

Researchers developed a chemical technique capable of detecting amino acids commonly associated with life on Earth.  The method is capable of simultaneously analyzing 17 different amino acids.

“Our method improves on previous attempts by increasing the number of amino acids that can be detected in a single run,” Dr. Jessica Creamer, a scientist involved with the research at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a press statement. “Additionally, it allows us to detect these amino acids at very low concentrations, even in highly salty samples, with a very simple ‘mix and analyze’ process.”

The chemical test uses a technique called capillary electrophoresis, which separates a mixture of organic molecules into its components to detect amino acids. NASA scientists were able to successfully use the technique to test for life in the extremely alkaline salt-rich waters of Mono Lake in California. The lake is a challenging habitat for life on Earth, but it closely resembles environments which could be found on Mars, Saturn’s moon Enceladus and Jupiter’s moon Europa. All of these locations are hotspots in NASA’s search for life in our solar system.

NASA is currently operating two rovers on Mars, dubbed “Opportunity” and “Curiosity.” America’s space agency successfully landed seven different probes on Mars and only crashed two. No country besides the U.S. has successfully operated a probe on Mars for longer than 14.5 seconds.

NASA rover Curiosity Mars discovered new geological evidence that liquid water was flowing on the Red Planet in the distant past.

Scientists think the rover may have discovered 3-billion-year-old mud cracks, meaning the planet was likely covered in water at that time. The rover also identified geological layering patterns called cross-bedding, which typically form on Earth when water flows rapidly near the shore of a lake.

In December, Curiosity found numerous organic molecules “all over” the Red Planet in samples it drilled out of rocks as well as organic molecules.

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