NASA aims to use new tool to ‘sniff out’ life on Mars

NASA aims to use new tool to ‘sniff out’ life on Mars

A new sensing technique developed by the U.S. military is expected to eventually help scientist sniff out life on Mars or other planets in our solar system.

The prototype tool, dubbed the Bio-Indicator Lidar Instrument (BILI), is currently being tested by the U.S. military to remotely monitor the air for detecting potentially life-threatening chemicals, toxins or pathogens. Now, NASA scientists believe that it can help space probes detect signs of extraterrestrial life on other planets.

While the tool will not fly to space anytime soon, but in the future, it can help in detecting biosignatures like oxygen or methane in the atmosphere of an extraterrestrial world.

Branimir Blagojevic, a technologist with the U.S. space agency, said, “BILI’s measurements ... can be conducted quickly over a broad area. This is a survey instrument, with a nose for certain molecules.”

The detector uses "two ultraviolet lasers to pulse light at the dust," NASA said, causing the particles to become excited. Scientists can analyze the molecules in that state to see what the plumes are made of and possibly find chemical signs that would point to organics and life.

NASA has already sent multiple rovers to mars, and now it is planning to send another rover to the Red Planet in 2020. But, these rovers are not specifically designed to search for alien life. Instead, these rovers are designed to search for signs of extinct microbial life on the planet and collect rock samples.

Apart from NASA, the European Space Agency and Russia are pushing ahead with their ExoMars program that aims to find possible signs of past or present life on the Red Planet. Separately, India’s Mars orbiter is searching for signs of methane in the Red Planet’s atmosphere.


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