Scientists will collaborate with the Artemis missions to search for traces of extraterrestrial life

The Homer Statue on UVA’s South Lawn gazes at the moon and beyond. Credit: Sanjay Suchak, University Communications

Has there ever been life on the moon? What about other planets?

With the U.S. slated to blast into lunar orbit soon — its first trip there in 50 years — the University of Virginia and NASA’s Artemis space missions seek to answer big questions like these, pushing the goal of what can be analyzed in alien lands. .

The new collaborative research will take the form of a ground-level rover probe. Of course, it won’t be done in time for this first unmanned launch.

Instead, the technology could be part of a future mission to the Moon — and possibly beyond. The space program is also considering putting humans on Mars.

“The basic idea of ​​this NASA-funded project is to obtain biological and elemental signatures, as well as detect surface morphology, to determine whether life has existed,” said engineering professor and principal investigator Mool Gupta, at the Laser Laboratory of of which a major part. of technology will be created.

“Certain types of chemical composition can tell us if there is life there. And by scanning, there can be traces of biological life in the form of cells.”

He added, however, that this is only scratching the surface.

Scientists want to answer a host of questions about the overall composition of the terrain, including its subsurface, and how it evolved. Long UVA strength in photonics will be essential.

MOCAPS to roam around and see

Gupta’s ambitious project goes by MOCAPS for short. It stands for “Miniature, Multifunctional, Microscopic Organic/Inorganic Compound Analytical Probe for In-Situ Planetary Spectroscopy.”

Basically, he and his collaborators are building a scientific instrument for an autonomous mini-rover. The optical probe head will look around and analyze rocks, ice and other soil samples.

UVA joins the Artemis missions to search for traces of extraterrestrial life

Mool Gupta stands at a station where parts of the rover’s small laser head will be developed. Credit: Dan Addison, University Communications

The small, tube-like head will weigh less than an ounce.

An efficient size is important to conserve space in flight and energy while you are there. Although the probe will wander, the rover will probably not pick up physical objects. All information transferred will be electronic and transmitted to NASA in real time.

The probe head will provide the information using laser spectrometry – relying on the way light is scattered to identify mineral elements – and an auto-focus lens that can take ultra-high-resolution pictures at the microscopic level.

“The spectrometry would work at an extreme level of sensitivity, one part per billion,” Gupta said. “This will also be the first probe to take a microscopic image, which will take you to the resolution of a human hair type.”

Investigating the past and the future

The moon does not support any life form that does not bring its own adaptive technology, because it has no atmosphere. This is why astronauts wear space suits.

The research published in the journal Astrobiology in 2018 theorized, however, that conditions favorable for at least simple life forms like bacteria may have existed on the Moon during two periods when Earth’s natural satellite likely had an atmosphere—but both were billions of years ago. seen.

For example, active microbes may have thrived in pools of water.

Gupta said understanding past and present conditions — including knowing where life might have flourished and how it might have flourished — will be important in preparing for the future.

As a practical concern, any future moon colonists will not only have to bring extras, such as a greenhouse for growing food; they will need to understand the type of soil they are working with and how its composition changes over time.

“If they send plants, the plants obviously can’t grow in the cold,” Gupta said. “They would have to create a balloon-type environment, and for the mineral nutrients, they would have to pull them out of the ground and use them as they need them.”

But for MOCAPS, the moon won’t be an end in itself. It will also be a proving ground, a test in preparation for more challenging environments in the solar system.

NASA’s Moon-observing CubeSat is ready for launch

Provided by University of Virginia

citation: Scientists to collaborate with Artemis missions to search for traces of extraterrestrial life (2022, August 30) retrieved on August 30, 2022 from .html

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