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To detect traces of alien life, try to find their footsteps. The first signs of life on another planet may not be a complex signal captured by an antenna or images of a scampering creature on an alien horizon, but a track left in long-dried mud.

On Earth, palaeontologists study traces left behind when an organism interacts with its environment. A team led by Andrea Baucon at the University of Modena, Italy, suggests that astrobiologists should follow suit and search not just for living and fossilised creatures, but also the traces they may have left behind.

“You have a heck of a lot more chance of finding the trace of an organism than you do the actual organism itself,” says Lisa Buckley, a palaeontologist at Peace Region Palaeontology

Research Centre in British Columbia, Canada. “One animal will leave countless traces in its lifetime, but it’s only ever going to leave one body fossil.”

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Category: Science