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New Palm-Sized Laser May Help Scientists Find Alien Life, Study Claims

CC0 / Pixabay / Universe
Universe - Sputnik International, 1920, 18.01.2023
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The Orbitrap, short for "orbit ion trap," technology and device were designed and developed by Russian scientists. Now, it has received a new enhancement that will enable it to be used in space.
An international team of scientists from the University of Maryland has presented the results of the development of an instrument specifically designed to search for signs of alien life. It is a mini laser to analyze samples of planetary material and detect potential biological activity.
The small analyzer, which weighs just 7.7 kg, is capable of examining samples of planetary material in situ and detecting signs of potential life. The device is a scaled-down model of two important tools for finding signs of life and analyzing materials. These are a pulsed ultraviolet laser, a device capable of 'cutting out' tiny amounts of material from a planetary sample; and the Orbitrap mass analyzer, an analytical tool that can provide high-quality information on the chemical composition of the materials under study.

"The Orbitrap was originally built for commercial use... You can find them in the labs of pharmaceutical, medical and proteomic industries. The one in my own lab is just under 400 pounds, so they’re quite large, and it took us eight years to make a prototype that could be used efficiently in space— significantly smaller and less resource-intensive, but still capable of cutting-edge science."

Ricardo Arevalo
An associate professor of geology at UMD, lead author of the paper
Its small size and low power consumption make the new device suitable for use in space. Moreover, thanks to the new layout of the device, the samples under study will be less susceptible to contamination during the study.
"The good thing about a laser source is that anything that can be ionized can be analyzed... This tool has such a high mass resolution and accuracy that any molecular or chemical structures in a sample become much more identifiable," said Arevalo.
The technology itself can be used as part of Enceladus Orbilander or Artemis Program missions.
"Our mini Orbitrap LDMS instrument has the potential to significantly enhance the way we currently study the geochemistry or astrobiology of a planetary surface," said Arevalo.
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