Space Laser All Set To Help Robot ‘Sniff Out’ Alien Life

First Posted: Nov 07, 2016 07:12 PM EST

During the early 2000s, when Branimir Blagojevic developed a sensor for the military to detect the airborne bio-hazards, he did not have any idea about the technology that could later be used in the search for extraterrestrial life.

His initial work concentrated on the use of lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) and is based on similar principles such as that of radar. Rather than using radio waves like radar, lidar uses laser light to detect the objects and measure the distance to a target. This is the main reason why lidar is referred to as 'light radar'.

According to, Blagojevic, a NASA technologist at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland understood that the technology behind looking out for toxins in the air might have an application beyond Earth and it can contribute to NASA's mission for finding out whether life exists on Mars. He said, "If life existed on Mars, it can be detected with this kind of instrument." At present, any mission sent to Mars is limited in terms of searching for evidence of biology, past or present. A robot usually has to undergo a slow process while collecting and analyzing the sample. Only a few samples can be collected from any given location.

Mars is no more a stranger to lasers. At present, Curiosity uses its ChemCam to laser blast the rocks so that its sensors can study the vapor produced to decipher what chemical it contains. According to, Blagojevic worked along with NASA planetary scientists named Melissa Trainer, Alexander Pavlov and Melissa Floyd and hope to climb this lidar system on a future Mars rover. During its mission, the rover would generally scan the environment for dust plumes. When the laser lights touche the individual dust particles, the energy from the laser will cause any particles in its path to produce light.

Blagojevic also added that beyond Mars, they also did some calculation regarding whether this instrument could work on frozen worlds such as Moon Enceladus and Europa. Enceladus is one of Saturn's mysterious moons. It created an interest among scientists because it is said that this mysterious moon contains water and where there is water, there is life. A lot of water vapor are lost to space, thus forming moon's trademark plumes.

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