KEY IDEA: The new method is being hailed as the “holy grail of astrobiology.”
Original author and publication date: Sharmila Kuthunur (Space) – September 26, 2023
Futurizonte Editor’s Note: Of course, detecting “signs of life” doesn’t mean to detect signs of intelligent life, but you never know…
From the article:
Can machines sniff out the presence of life on other planets? Well, to some extent, they already are.
Sensors onboard spacecraft exploring other worlds have the capability to detect molecules indicative of alien life. Yet, organic molecules that hint at intriguing biological processes are known to degrade over time, making their presence difficult for current technology to spot.
But now, a newly developed method based on artificial intelligence (AI) is capable of detecting subtle differences in molecular patterns that indicate biological signals — even in samples hundreds of millions of years old. Better yet, the mechanism offers results with 90% accuracy, according to new research.
In the future, this AI system could be embedded in smarter sensors on robotic space explorers, including landers and rovers on the moon and Mars, as well as within spacecraft circling potentially habitable worlds like Enceladus and Europa.
“We began with the idea that the chemistry of life differs fundamentally from that of the inanimate world; that there are ‘chemical rules of life’ that influence the diversity and distribution of biomolecules,” Robert Hazen, a scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington D.C. and co-author of the new study, said in a statement.
“If we could deduce those rules, we can use them to guide our efforts to model life’s origins or to detect subtle signs of life on other worlds.”