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Mars NASA Science

NASA Invents New Technique For Finding Alien Life 71

RedEaredSlider writes "From the IB Times article: 'Researchers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., have come up with an idea to improve on an old standby of space exploration instruments and improve the odds of finding life, if any, on Mars. By adding a laser and an ion funnel to a mass spectrometer, it is possible to analyze the elements from the Martian surface directly, without the complex handling samples usually needed... The new version uses a two-step technique. First it shoots a laser at the sample's surface. This creates a plume of molecules and ions. To get the ions into the mass spectrometer, the new system uses an ion funnel. The ion funnel uses conductive, progressively smaller electrodes in the shape of a ring that attract the ions, effectively vacuuming them into the mass spectrometer.'"
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NASA Invents New Technique For Finding Alien Life

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  • by intellitech ( 1912116 ) * on Thursday February 10, 2011 @05:10AM (#35160020)

    "There are a lot of exciting discoveries about Mars that have yet to be made," Paul Johnson, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. "This technique could make understanding the composition of rocks and soils on Mars -- possibly including evidence of life -- much easier."

    It doesn't sound like a bad idea. How does this compare with the "RAT," which was installed on Spirit and Opportunity? I assume that it's not as likely to get jammed or clogged as the RAT, or previous "scooping" mechanisms that retrieved soil samples. Honestly, though, I feel that drilling into the sample source would give more accurate composition results than a light laser burst, which I can't imagine would be able to knock off more than a few layers of molecules.

    Also, on another note, give me back my damn meta-moderation buttons on user pages.

  • It involves Facebook, iPads, or noSQL?

  • by kipling ( 24579 ) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @05:25AM (#35160078) Homepage

    Is the lander going to be a long-legged tripod?

  • by michelcolman ( 1208008 ) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @05:45AM (#35160174)
    So in order to find alien life, we are going to hit it with a laser and look at the smoke. What if aliens were to do that to us one day?
    • by ComaVN ( 325750 )

      What if aliens were to do that to us one day?

      Then we die.

      What, you think our actions on Mars will somehow prevent aliens from elsewhere doing to us whatever they are going to do to us?

    • by octal666 ( 668007 ) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @06:55AM (#35160366)

      NASA confirms, there WAS life on Mars.

      • NASA confirms, there WAS life on Mars.

        That makes me think of that scene in "The Three Amigos" where Chevy Chase shoots the invisible swordsman. :-D

      • Sounds oddly like the logic of drowning witches. If they drown, they are innocent (but dead), and if they float they are witches and burned alive.

        It also sounds like some alien races new technology to bombard Earth with large concussive impacts, and if a "red mist" is thrown up in place of potential life, they they will have discovered life.

        • But the dead non-witches could still have a Christian burial, while the living witches could be tortured until they repented. Either way, the inquisitors figured that a soul was "saved". Oddly, the very idea of a "lost" soul would seem (especially before relativity theory) to imply that souls have zero rest mass. They're not just light, they must be entirely massless!
    • by mangu ( 126918 )

      we are going to hit it with a laser and look at the smoke. What if aliens were to do that to us one day?

      Let me guess: no tattoos? []

    • The next question is, "How does it taste?" I'm thinking of Popplers: []. NASA's contraption obviously overcooks it.

      Captain Kirk phasered a creature that looked like a giant cheese burger patty, called a Horta. But after Spock did a Vulcan Mind Meld with it, Kirk felt guilty. So McCoy beamed down to bandage it with construction cement: [].

  • by Dutchmaan ( 442553 ) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @06:13AM (#35160268) Homepage
    OMG! All those old timey ray-guns... with the progressively smaller rings at the muzzle were actually accurate!!!
  • by lordholm ( 649770 ) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @06:21AM (#35160302) Homepage

    Why send instruments like that, why not just send up a robust microscope with a HD camera? It will never be seen as confirmed unless you see the buggers moving around.

    • I guess spectrometer data takes bit less space compared to those "hd shots" so they will be able to check more spots.
    • by sznupi ( 719324 )
      - Whoa, that green stuff looks interesting, if only we could know what it's made of!

      - Sorry, we can't do that; lordholm was in charge of the scientific package and he's not fond of using launch budget on mass spectrometer

      - Shit. Well, at least we have more pretty pictures!
    • Have you ever actually used a microscope? You can't just put one on an arm and wave it over a patch of dirt and expect to see anything interesting. Microscopes capable of resolving bacteria have a very tiny depth of field, so if you point it at a patch of ground there'd be nothing in focus. You have to take samples, mount them on a slide, stain them (usually), and then place them under a microscope. And on Mars, most potentially interesting microbes will probably be buried. To do that you have to have
    • Why send instruments like that, why not just send up a robust microscope with a HD camera? It will never be seen as confirmed unless you see the buggers moving around.

      Well, people have been staring at the Martian ALH 84001 meteorite with all sorts of high-tech microscopes for many years, and they still can't agree on what it is that they see.

      As far as moving around, on Mars it's not unlikely that any life there would be like the bacteria found in solid rocks miles below the earth's surface. Those have such slow metabolism that they can take thousands of years to divide.

      Vaporising the stuff and sniffing the results should also be able to detect the remains of dead organis

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      Probably because the "finding life" is just something essentially tacked on for press. It's a better way of doing mass spectroscopy, because we're mostly looking for rock and soil compositions. Yes, if they happen to be organic that could contribute to the discovery of life but that is a fringe case. That and that life is likely to be hidden away from the surface, we have a bigger chance of observing deposits that have been brought to the surface than actual life.

  • ...if they could do this from orbit.
  • It often helps finding mice. Everything loves cheese! I have no idea what the trap will look like, though....

  • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @08:49AM (#35160898) Homepage

    Look for the space aliens in Pasadena. Judging by Californians in general, I'm sure they could find a few.

  • What the summary didn't mention is that the laser would be mounted on a selachimorpha...

    Martian sharks with frickin' lasers!

  • In the spirit of the Golden Rule, I hope that any future alien visitors to Earth do not need to vacuum up humans before realizing we are indeed a life form. It sounds quite uncomfortable.
  • Until it actually sends a laser on something that is alive, and then this new race will consider this an act of war, and retaliate, all because there species looks like rock (Start Trek episode...?)

  • Funny book, the researcher lands and starts melting rocks with his Laser.. Hilarity ensues.. I hope the Martians can get their tentacles around the concept of research VS invasion.
    • Look, we'll just stay down here until that thing goes away. They're always peaceful, just scooping up some dirt and getting stuck once in awhile. Come on, it isn't like it'll fire a laser at ... OK, General - you were suggesting a massive pre-emptive attack?
  • This is a good idea, but the summary and article make it sound like this is a new idea. The article shows that MALDI [] has been around for a while. Then again .... I'm an idiot .....
  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @11:42AM (#35162510)

    Just shoot it with a laser. If it shoots back, we've found life. Dealing with the subsequent interstellar war is the responsibility of a different department.

  • I was thinking how this sounded very scifi like. Spectrometer, laser, ion. It's articles like this that I read Slashdot.

  • As soon as I read "mass spectrometer," I instantly began to hope that we don't overclock the spectrometer to, say, 105%. Such experiments may very well produce evidence of extraterrestrial life, but such life may prove to be extremely violent. The life may even turn our technology against us and decide to engage us in an interstellar conflict. Chances are that being the scapegoat-seeking humans we are, we would probably divert our resources towards trying to cover up the event. In that case, ff we becom

The unfacts, did we have them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude.