Powerful new tool for looking for life beyond Earth

SOEST researchers have developed an innovative new spectroscopy instrument to aid the search for extraterrestrial life. The new instrument is designed to detect compounds and minerals associated with biological activity more quickly and with greater sensitivity than previous instruments.

Shiv Sharma and Anupam Misra, researchers at the Hawaiʻi Institute for Geophysics and Planetology at SOEST, and team in collaboration with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) developed the new instrument, which improves on an analytical technique known as micro-Raman spectroscopy. This technique uses the interaction between laser light and a sample to provide chemical composition information on a microscopic scale.

It can detect organic compounds such as the amino acids found in living things and identify minerals formed by biochemical processes on Earth that might indicate life on other planets.

In The Optical Society journal Applied Optics, the researchers report that their new system — which they call the standoff ultra-compact micro Raman (SUCR) instrument — is the first to perform micro-Raman analysis of samples 10 centimeters away from the instrument with 17.3-micron resolution. The new spectrometer is significantly faster than other micro Raman instruments and extremely compact. These features are important for space applications and could also make the instrument useful for real-time biomedical and food analyses.

Read more about it at UH NewsEurekAlert! and Chemicals in News.