This Device Is the Most Sensitive Instrument within the Search for Life in Space

This Device Is the Most Sensitive Instrument in the Search for Life in Space

The mass spectrometer ORIGIN. Credit: © University of Bern, Image: Andreas Riedo

Researchers on the University of Bern have developed the extremely delicate ORIGIN instrument, which might present proof of the smallest quantities of traces of life, for future house missions. Space companies reminiscent of NASA have already expressed curiosity in testing ORIGIN for future missions. The instrument could also be used on missions to the ice moons of Europa (Jupiter) and Enceladus (Saturn), for instance.

The query of whether or not life exists past the Earth is one in all humanity’s most elementary questions. Future NASA missions, for instance, intention to look at the ice moons of Jupiter and Saturn, which can probably shelter life within the liquid oceans beneath the thick layer of ice, on the bottom. Proving traces of life past the Earth is extraordinarily difficult, nevertheless. Highly delicate devices that take measurements on the bottom with the best potential diploma of autonomy and with excessive precision – thousands and thousands of kilometers from the Earth and thus with out direct assist from humankind – are required.

An worldwide group of researchers beneath the management of Andreas Riedo and Niels Ligterink on the University of Bern have now developed ORIGIN, a mass spectrometer that may detect and determine the smallest quantities of such traces of life. They describe the instrument in a not too long ago revealed article within the specialist journal Nature Scientific Reports. Niels Ligterink from the Center for Space and Habitability (CSH) is the lead creator of the worldwide research, and co-author Andreas Riedo from the Physics Institute on the University of Bern developed the instrument within the laboratories of the house analysis and planetary sciences division of the Physics Institute. Various worldwide house companies, notably NASA, have already expressed curiosity in testing ORIGIN for future missions.

New instrument required

Since the primary Mars mission “Viking” within the 1970s, humanity has been looking for traces of life on Mars utilizing extremely specialised devices which are put in on touchdown platforms and rovers. In its early years, Mars was Earth-like, had a dense ambiance, and even liquid water. However, as Niels Ligterink explains, Mars misplaced its protecting ambiance over the course of time: “As a result of this, the surface of Mars is subjected to high solar and cosmic radiation which makes life on the surface impossible.” NASA’s “Curiosity” rover is presently inspecting Mars intimately however with no concrete indications of traces of life up to now.

Since the invention by the Cassini and Galileo missions of the worldwide oceans beneath kilometers of ice layers on Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus, these two our bodies have more and more grow to be the main focus of the seek for extraterrestrial life for researchers. According to present information, the oceans have all the properties which aren’t solely wanted for the incidence of life, but in addition which give environments during which life can exist in the long run. NASA, due to this fact, plans to land a mission on Jupiter’s moon Europa round 2030 and take measurements on the bottom. The aim: Identification of life. Co-author Prof. Dr. Peter Wurz from the Physics Institute on the University of Bern says: “Concepts which were specially developed for Mars cannot be simply applied to other bodies in our solar system because they are very different. New instruments with higher sensitivity and simpler and more robust analysis systems must be designed and used”.

Unprecedented measurement sensitivity for proof of life in house

ORIGIN is one such new instrument that outperforms earlier house devices many phrases over by way of its measurement sensitivity. Various worldwide house companies have expressed nice curiosity within the instrument for future missions. Andreas Riedo says: “NASA has invited us to participate and test our instrument in the Arctic. The Arctic is the optimal test environment in the context of the EUROPA LANDER mission, which should start in 2025, which will allow us to demonstrate the performance of ORIGIN.”

Amino acids are key parts of life as we all know it on Earth. Contemporaneous proof of sure amino acids on extraterrestrial surfaces, reminiscent of these of Europa, enable conclusions to be drawn about potential life. The measurement precept developed by the Bern-based researchers is straightforward. Niels Ligterink explains: “Laser pulses are directed at the surface to be examined. In the process, small amounts of material are detached, the chemical composition of which is analyzed by ORIGIN in a second step”. Andreas Riedo provides: “The compelling aspect of our technology is that no complicated sample preparation techniques, which could potentially affect the result, are required. This was one of the biggest problems on Mars until now,” says Riedo. The amino acids which have been analyzed with ORIGIN up to now have a selected chemical fingerprint which permits them to be immediately recognized. Niels Ligterink: “To be honest, we didn’t expect that our first measurements would already be able to identify amino acids.”

The discovery of traces of previous or current life on our bodies in our photo voltaic system past the Earth is of nice significance for a greater understanding of the existence of life within the universe and its genesis. Andreas Riedo says: “Our new measurement technology is a real improvement on the instruments currently used on space missions. If we are taken along on a future mission, we may be able to answer one of humanity’s most fundamental questions with ORIGIN: Is there life in space?”

Reference: “ORIGIN: a novel and compact Laser Desorption – Mass Spectrometry system for sensitive in situ detection of amino acids on extraterrestrial surfaces” by Niels F. W. Ligterink, Valentine Grimaudo, Pavel Moreno-García, Rustam Lukmanov, Marek Tulej, Ingo Leya, Robert Lindner, Peter Wurz, Charles S. Cockell, Pascale Ehrenfreund and Andreas Riedo, 15 June 2020, Scientific Reports.
DOI: 10.1038/s41598-020-66240-1

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