A chemical computer to search for extraterrestrial life

A chemical computer to search for extraterrestrial life

NASA scientists develop a “chemical computer”. The device can analyze samples indicating the possible existence of extraterrestrial life.

The search for extraterrestrial life has starred in numerous books and science fiction movies. Will there be living out there? Will they be like us? These are some of the questions we ask to heaven watching us. Issues decades also drive researchers to identify exoplanets that qualify as “habitable worlds.”

Spanish science is also involved in projects finding “other Earths”, where maybe we can find some day extraterrestrial life.

A chemical computer to search for extraterrestrial life

What makes instruments like Carmens or European missions as CHEOPS.

Across the “pond”, the US space agency also employs numerous efforts in space exploration and astrobiology research. One of the last projects of the NASA was the presentation of a “chemical computer” developed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena (California).

“If you were looking for signs of alien life on another world, you might like to take a small, portable device with you.” That is the philosophy behind this kind of “chemical computer”, a miniaturized laboratory analyzing samples associated with living organisms.

According to scientists at JPL, if the instrument was sent into space, it would be the device most sensitive of its kind carried out on Earth, and the first to be able to find amino acids and fatty acids, both organic molecules associated with living things.

Researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory expect this device may someday be sent to Mars or Europa, Jupiter’s moon. Its size is similar to a laptop, hence its peculiar name, but works as a laboratory for chemical analysis.

As Fernanda Mora explains, “The system is configured as a normal computer, with different application with which the presence of organic molecules.” Amino acids are “bricks” with which are constructed proteins, while fatty acids are essential components of the membranes of our cells.

Discover these chemicals would help us find the first “evidence” but not definitivas- tracks of the existence of extraterrestrial life. The problem with this “chemical computer” is that you need to run liquid samples.

Something that is difficult in venues such as the Red Planet. To fix this, the researchers thought the technology that uses a simple coffee, in which ground coffee is placed in a tube with liquid water and heated, so we get a cup of coffee to eat breakfast daily.

In fact, the instrument Sample Analysis at Mars Curiosity robot works similarly, but using only heat, not water.

By introducing the aqueous sample in the chemical computer, the device adds a fluorescent label in case there amino acids or fatty acids, the molecules that indicate that could have extraterrestrial life there.

These compounds are then passed to a microchip within the system, which separates molecules based on their chemical structure and how to analyze what type of molecule is.

According to Fernanda Mora, “this is the first step to demonstrate the development of an automatic and fully portable instrument that works in the field.” Will you be able to find extraterrestrial life someday? Only time will help us answer this question.

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