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NASA Unveils New Test for Life on Other Planets

Jan 31, 2017 11:07 AM EST
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Chemistry plays a big role in detecting signs of life on other planets. In fact, NASA just announced that they found a new way to test for life on the other bodies within the Solar System.

The new test is expected to elevate the way scientists search for life on Earth. The new test uses a liquid-based technique called "capillary electrophoresis" that breaks down organic molecules into its components.

The new test can analyze amino acids - a vital building block of life on Earth, according to UPI. The enhanced method is 10,000 times better than the previous ones when it comes to sensitivity.

Aside from being more sensitive, the process is also simpler since it has the capability to automate for liquid samples. The combining of samples will then be followed by chemical analysis. Scientists can decide what kind of circumstance the samples will be exposed to.

To test the samples, lasers will be used across the mixture in a process called laser-induced fluorescence detection. The system identifies molecules in different speeds. They will then be separated depending on how they react to the electric field. This is the first time that the technology will be used to search for alien life on other planets.

"Our method improves on previous attempts by increasing the number of amino acids that can be detected in a single run," Jessica Creamer, a postdoctoral scholar at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a press release. "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 new process was also tested in Mono Lake in California. During the testing period, the team observed 17 amino acids.

 "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," Peter Willis, the principal investigator said in the same report.

Scientists believe that this new process will help scientists discover extraterrestrial life in other ocean worlds.

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