Scientists Improve Ways to Detect Alien Life on Mars and Other Planets

First Posted: May 15, 2015 10:53 AM EDT

For years, people have imagined the possibility of life on Mars. Now, though, researchers have taken a closer look at what techniques need to be used in order to find the possibility of life on the Red Planet.

"There has been a tremendous amount of very exciting findings this year that Mars once contained actively flowing, low-saline, near-neural-pH water-pretty much the type of water where you find life on Earth today," said Alison Olcott Marshall, one of the researchers, in a news release. "This has made people think that it's possible that life could have existed on Mars, although most researchers agree it's unlikely to exist today-at least on the surface-as conditions on the surface of Mars are incredibly harsh."

Now, researchers are looking for better ways to detect life. They're improving the way scientists detect condensed aromatic carbon, thought to be a chemical signature of astrobiology.

"If we're going to identify life on Mars, it will likely be the fossil remnants of the chemicals once synthesized by life, and we hope our research helps strengthen the ability to evaluate the evidence collected on Mars," said Craig Marshall, one of the researchers.

By itself, Raman spectroscopy is able to screen for carbonaceous material. However, it can't determine its source. This means that technology needs to be supplemented in order to determine if life exists on Mars.

"Raman spectroscopy works by impinging a laser on a sample so the molecules within that sample vibrate at diagnostic frequencies," said Craig Marshall. "Measuring those frequencies allows the identification of inorganic and organic materials. It's insufficient because however the carbonaceous material is made, it will be the same chemically and structurally, and thus Raman spectroscopy cannot determine the origin."

In this case, the researchers recommend the use of gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy to supplement Raman spectroscopy. In theory, this could allow scientists to collect better evidence of whether or not ancient alien life once existed.

The findings are published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences.

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