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NASA Invents New Technique For Finding Alien Life

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the take-me-to-your-leader dept.

Mars 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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This versus old mechanisms for sample gathering? (4, Insightful)

intellitech (1912116) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:This versus old mechanisms for sample gathering (1)

BrokenHalo (565198) | more than 3 years ago | (#35161268)

I wonder how much power this drains. One can only hope they use a better battery than the one in my phone. :-/

Re:This versus old mechanisms for sample gathering (1)

intellitech (1912116) | more than 3 years ago | (#35161490)

Eh, battery size might matter, but, ideally, they'll cyclically recharge through solar panels.

Re:This versus old mechanisms for sample gathering (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35163468)

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.

It is possible to integrate a lot of laser power in a small device nowadays. For example, from the wikipedia article on lasers:

"Several workers demonstrated optically pumped VECSELs, and they continue to be developed for many applications including high power sources for use in industrial machining (cutting, punching, etc.) because of their unusually high power and efficiency when pumped by multi-mode diode laser bars"

Such a device should not be much larger than 1 or 2 cm. The power supplies are pretty large normally. But if a device for just pulsed use at low repetition rate is designed, it should be possible to make this pretty small. There is no need for the usually large cooling, and the high current can just come from a capacitor.

Re:This versus old mechanisms for sample gathering (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35177928)

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is in La Canada Flintridge, not Pasadena (whatever Wikipedia says.)

Let me guess (0)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#35160038)

It involves Facebook, iPads, or noSQL?

converse one star (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35160054)

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War of the worlds in reverse... (3, Funny)

kipling (24579) | more than 3 years ago | (#35160078)

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

Re:War of the worlds in reverse... (1)

h00manist (800926) | more than 3 years ago | (#35160246)

Those are out of fashion, the new trend I believe is crash landing.

Re:War of the worlds in reverse... (1)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 3 years ago | (#35162294)

There is no lander. We're just shooting the laser at Mars from Pasadena.

Re:War of the worlds in reverse... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35164970)

LOL, no. That's not what they're doing. Do you think the ion funnel is a fucking subspace transporter?

Re:War of the worlds in reverse... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35169178)

WHOOSH

Responding to the Headline (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35160112)

Direct mail marketing?

Life going up in smoke (3, Funny)

michelcolman (1208008) | more than 3 years ago | (#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?

Re:Life going up in smoke (1)

ComaVN (325750) | more than 3 years ago | (#35160280)

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?

Re:Life going up in smoke (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35160384)

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

No, probably not, regardless of species there is always going to be assholes like you that think that it is OK to hurt others because someone else i likely to do the same to us.
Out only hope is that if there are aliens out there they have friendlier individuals that tell their equivalent of you to fsck off.

Re:Life going up in smoke (1)

slackbheep (1420367) | more than 3 years ago | (#35160562)

There really is some bleeding heart out there bawling over everything, isn't there? You've left more bacteria to die in your bloody water filter, you monster.

Re:Life going up in smoke (1)

ComaVN (325750) | more than 3 years ago | (#35160598)

Reading comprehension is hard I guess.

Re:Life going up in smoke (1)

BrokenHalo (565198) | more than 3 years ago | (#35161314)

Perhaps a bit of perspective is called for here. We're not sending Triffids or Daleks to Mars anytine soon.

The kind of bitty little laser they're talking about is unlkely to "hurt" anything bigger than a few cells of mould or bacteria. If you're seriously expecting them to come back to bite us on the ass, you're in for a long wait.

Re:Life going up in smoke (4, Funny)

octal666 (668007) | more than 3 years ago | (#35160366)

NASA confirms, there WAS life on Mars.

Re:Life going up in smoke (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35161232)

Hang head, vandal!

Re:Life going up in smoke (1)

XxtraLarGe (551297) | more than 3 years ago | (#35161852)

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

She's a witch! (1)

DarthVain (724186) | more than 3 years ago | (#35162192)

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.

Re:She's a witch! (1)

LeadSongDog (1120683) | more than 3 years ago | (#35165884)

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!

Re:Life going up in smoke (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#35160630)

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? [google.com]

Late-Breaking News: We've already decided. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35161386)

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?

"We've already decided. Hold on to your gelsacs!"
- K'Breel, Speaker for the Council of Elders

If there is life on Mars (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 3 years ago | (#35161414)

The next question is, "How does it taste?" I'm thinking of Popplers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Problem_with_Popplers [wikipedia.org] . 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: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horta_(Star_Trek) [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Life going up in smoke (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35163610)

The life forms that they'd be looking for would be microscopic. I'm not crying over a few space bugs getting zapped.

Re:Life going up in smoke (1)

michelcolman (1208008) | more than 3 years ago | (#35164090)

That's what the other aliens would say about us...

Re:Life going up in smoke (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35165064)

If they're that much bigger than us, they probably won't care much for our welfare even after they find out we're alive. Why should they? I still won't feel sorry for the mosquito when I'm swatting it.

Ignore this notice (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35160178)

gierilghirehbfiurenhvgiuhn tugh ugy hutgiu rgirur higyukgh ukky hygt;p uojbvgt;pto[ io[trgpbtio;jj

Re:Ignore this notice (4, Funny)

h00manist (800926) | more than 3 years ago | (#35160242)

Let it go, it doesnt help to keep spreading rumors about your ex, even if you say it in Martian.

Old Timey Ray Guns!!! (4, Funny)

Dutchmaan (442553) | more than 3 years ago | (#35160268)

OMG! All those old timey ray-guns... with the progressively smaller rings at the muzzle were actually accurate!!!

Re:Old Timey Ray Guns!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35163986)

ion funnel?

NASA is getting taxpayers to pay to take a mining laser [google.com] to Mars to look for oil/WMDS/green babes/unobtainium.

(Do not point mining laser at remaining eye. Illegal in some jurisdictions, airports and Australia.)

What's the mass limit on one of them babies, anyway? I got some gophers in the back yard that could use a little 'life-detecting'

Microscopes anyone? (5, Insightful)

lordholm (649770) | more than 3 years ago | (#35160302)

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.

limited data delivery options (1)

plaukas pyragely (1630517) | more than 3 years ago | (#35160860)

I guess spectrometer data takes bit less space compared to those "hd shots" so they will be able to check more spots.

Re:limited data delivery options (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35161076)

I guess spectrometer data takes bit less space

C'mon, in what age do you live ? In this age, we have sticks which fit millions of HD pictures which can be transmitted.

We just don't have the patience anymore to wait for them to be beamed to earth. But an array of repeating tiny satellites with lasers could solve this. (first internet connection on Mars. Speed of light. Yes. That could be possible if there were some initiative.

Re:limited data delivery options (1)

intellitech (1912116) | more than 3 years ago | (#35161464)

We just don't have the patience anymore to wait for them to be beamed to earth. But an array of repeating tiny satellites with lasers could solve this. (first internet connection on Mars. Speed of light. Yes. That could be possible if there were some initiative.

Uhm, hey, buddy, I think radio transmissions and laser beams both travel at the same speed - the speed of light.

Increase in throughput / decrease in interference is not the same as an increase in transmission speed.

Re:limited data delivery options (1)

_0xd0ad (1974778) | more than 3 years ago | (#35163712)

first internet connection on Mars. Speed of light. Yes. That could be possible if there were some initiative.

The speed of light has nothing to do with the throughput (how much data can be transferred in, say, 1 minute). It defines the latency.

"first internet connection on Mars. Speed of light" = pings of 36692 ms. Sound good to anyone?

Re:Microscopes anyone? (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#35161568)

- 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!

Re:Microscopes anyone? (1)

lazybratsche (947030) | more than 3 years ago | (#35161784)

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 some fairly sophisticated sample handling mechanisms... which is exactly what this new mass spec instrument doesn't need. Now you just point it at an interesting patch of dirt, zap it with the laser, and suck all of the vaporized ions into the mass spec.

Re:Microscopes anyone? (1)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 3 years ago | (#35161942)

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 organisms, even if they can't survive near the dry UV-soaked surface.

Re:Microscopes anyone? (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 3 years ago | (#35163500)

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.

I would be impressed... (1)

agw (6387) | more than 3 years ago | (#35160306)

...if they could do this from orbit.

Re:I would be impressed... (1)

mark-t (151149) | more than 3 years ago | (#35161130)

I would be more impressed if they could do it from _here_.

Re:I would be impressed... (1)

_0xd0ad (1974778) | more than 3 years ago | (#35163730)

They are.

We come in peace... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35160352)

... shoot to kill, shoot to kill, shoot to kill, men.

(The Firm - Star Trekkin')

Re:We come in peace... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35160380)

You stole my comment and the exact words I was going to use.

Well done. :-)

Good, now shut down SETI... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35160538)

> NASA Invents New Technique For Finding Alien Life

Good, now shut down SETI... they're a waste of computing power.

Re:Good, now shut down SETI... (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#35161688)

And do what with the computing power? Fancy screensavers? Face it, SETI is already one of the better uses for most computers in the world.

Re:Good, now shut down SETI... (1)

_0xd0ad (1974778) | more than 3 years ago | (#35163778)

Turn it off and quit wasting electricity on cores we don't need. Modern CPUs are capable of turning off cores that aren't needed to save power.

Mysterons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35160658)

The mysterons will not be happy.

WOW, you are OLD pops! (1)

Thud457 (234763) | more than 3 years ago | (#35164684)

I'll commence getting off your lawn now.

Try Cheese (1)

macraig (621737) | more than 3 years ago | (#35160780)

It often helps finding mice. Everything loves cheese! I have no idea what the trap will look like, though....

Proposed alternative plan (2)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 3 years ago | (#35160898)

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

Re:Proposed alternative plan (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#35162290)

Hey now, we call those "forward thinkers" out here!

NUKE 'EM !! NUKEM 'EM NOW !! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35161056)

In a billion years, there may be MARTIANS, and MARTIANS invade !! NUKE 'EM ALL !! NUKE 'EM NOW !! The only good MARTIAN is a DEAD MARTIAN !!

More details (1)

Jason Levine (196982) | more than 3 years ago | (#35161338)

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

Martian sharks with frickin' lasers!

Do Unto Others (2)

bengoerz (581218) | more than 3 years ago | (#35161408)

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.

Re:Do Unto Others (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35162016)

That wouldn't happen to us. It was already predicted in Bugs Bunny what would happen:

"Where's the kaboom? There was supposed to be an Earth-shattering kaboom!"

Until.... (1)

hesaigo999ca (786966) | more than 3 years ago | (#35161560)

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...?)

The Flying Sorcerers; Niven. Gerrold (1)

h.ross.perot (1050420) | more than 3 years ago | (#35161714)

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.

Re:The Flying Sorcerers; Niven. Gerrold (1)

vlpronj (1345627) | more than 3 years ago | (#35162022)

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?

It's called MALDI (1)

Kurofuneparry (1360993) | more than 3 years ago | (#35161854)

This is a good idea, but the summary and article make it sound like this is a new idea. The article shows that MALDI [wikipedia.org] has been around for a while. Then again .... I'm an idiot .....

Re:It's called MALDI (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35162010)

Actually it isn't MALDI (matrix assisted laser desorption ionization), it is plain old laser ablation-mass spectrometry. Nothing new here, except the application, which has been suggested to various NASA scientists for at least 20 years, nice to know they eventually catch on.

Foreign Policy (2)

PPH (736903) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

PNNL Press Release (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35163030)

The IBTimes article is a little overblown. Better info can be found from PNNL's original press release, ambiguously titled "Tool makes search for Martian life easier."
There's a reference to the original journal article in Planetary and Space Science as well.

http://www.pnl.gov/news/release.aspx?id=842

fucking retarded (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35164544)

"NASA" (that agency ran by ex-nazi's and their offspring) has known about "Alien life" for over 80 years now.

Fuck slashdot is retarded.

This is very cool. Very Scifi like (1)

purplemecha (1823386) | more than 3 years ago | (#35164750)

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

Re:This is very cool. Very Scifi like (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35201940)

It's articles like this that I read Slashdot.

No, it's articles about lasers on sharks why you read slashdot.

Don't Repeat the Past (or, in this case, Future) (1)

Seinoir (1996088) | more than 3 years ago | (#35198914)

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 become engaged in a conflict with such life, we may not be prepared for the style of warfare we encounter. I'm guessing that our entire planet could be conquered in, say, seven hours if the opposing race was advanced enough. Before you know it, we'll all be herded into condensed urban living areas and ruled in a totalitarian distopia by the first brown-nosed bureaucrat to offer Earth's surrender to the superior alien forces.
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