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|New Instrument to Search for Life|
Late last month, Alison Skelley and Richard Mathies from UC Berkeley
and others from NASA traveled to the Atacama Desert to test the Mars
Organic Analyzer (MOA). The Atacama Desert is one of the most lifeless
places on Earth. However, the MOA was able to detect the presence of
amino acids. Even more impressive, is that it was able to distinguish
between left and right handed amino acids (its chirality).
For some reason, life prefers left-handed amino acids. Scientists feel
that this could be an important clue to distinguishing chemical from
biological sources for any amino acids found on Mars (in space it seems
to be 50-50).
"We feel that measuring homochirality - a prevalence of one type of
handedness over another - would be absolute proof of life," said
Mathies, a professor of chemistry and Skelley's research advisor.
"We've shown on Earth, in the most Mars-like environment available,
that this instrument is a thousand times better at detecting biomarkers
than any instrument put on Mars before." The instrument is scheduled to
fly on the ESA's ExoMars Mission in 2011. Skelley has been working on
amino-acid detection for 5 years now and this project for the past 2.
"When I first started this project, I had seen photos of the Martian
surface and possible signs of water, but the existence of liquid water
was speculative, and people thought I was crazy to be working on an
experiment to detect life on Mars," Skelley said. "I feel vindicated
now, thanks to the work of NASA and others that shows there used to be
running liquid water on the surface of Mars."
| Mars astrobiology probe.|
Credit: Alison Skelley/UC Berkeley
(More info: Berkeley)
- posted by Jim @ 13:52 EST