Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Space Exploration, Space News, New Technology to Find ET

Researchers are building instruments to detect alien life

Several collaborative efforts are in progress, developing specialized equipment that will hopefully be able to detect and analyze extraterrestrial samples for signs of life.

The efficiency and capabilities of future Mars rovers could be greatly improved by efforts being made by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory (INL). Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News explains:

The ExoMars Rover will be powered by solar energy. Hence all its instrument components will have to be very low-power. INL's new technology guides ions using versatile, complex electric fields that reduce the need for pumps. It could potentially make ExoMars' life-detecting tools cheaper and more sensitive.

Illustration of the ExoMars rover (credit: ESA - AOES Medialab)
Other researchers at Harvard and MIT are working on technology to detect signs of extraterrestrial life here on Earth. This project, called the Search for Extraterrestrial Genomes (SETG), explores the possibility that life on Earth might have started from Martian organisms that found their way to Earth by riding meteors. As Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News explains, this project will “look for DNA and RNA through in situ analysis of Martian soil and ice samples. The team intends to use molecular biology approaches including PCR and to develop an instrument that can isolate, amplify, detect, and classify any extant DNA- or RNA-based organism, even at extremely low abundance.”

A professor of genetics at Harvard who is involved with the SETG project explains that, through the efforts of the project, they will be able to “maximize our chances of detecting life that is divergent from life on Earth.”

Mars has been getting more attention lately as NASA has hopes of launching a manned mission to Mars in the not-to-distant future. NASA recently announced that a Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle is being developed in cooperation with the Lockheed Martin Corporation that could be the next spacecraft to take humans into space, and enable deep space exploration. 

Source: http://web.mit.edu/setg/SETG/Mainpage.html
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