The potential for water and even life on the red planet has captivated scientists and citizens alike, but if we were to discover life on Mars, it would likely look like compounds in the planet’s soil rather than green life forms. This is why researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have developed a device to more precisely analyze soil samples from space.
Previous methods for analyzing samples taken by the Mars rover used gas chromatography and mass spectrometry, but the newly developed portable machine from Caltech uses microchip electrophoresis and laser-induced fluorescence to separate out soil compounds from one another and detect target substances. The new device could be potentially revolutionary in detecting organic acids, as well as salts, minerals, and water, on the surface of foreign planets.
Before the machine makes a voyage to Mars, the researchers tested it on a simulated Mars mission in the Chilean desert. The device successfully detected amino acids at concentrations as low as parts per billion. This makes the device three times more sensitive to potential signs of life than traditional technology.