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NASA has developed an innovative new spectroscopy instrument to aid the search for extraterrestrial life. The new instrument is designed to detect compounds and minerals associated with biological activity more quickly and with greater sensitivity than previous instruments. Although no evidence of life outside of Earth has yet been found, looking for evidence of present or past life on other planets continues to be an important part of the NASA Planetary Exploration Program.

Researchers at NASA Langley Research Center and the University of Hawaii developed the new instrument, which improves on an analytical technique known as micro Raman spectroscopy. This technique uses the interaction between laser light and a sample to provide chemical composition information on a microscopic scale. It can detect organic compounds such as the amino acids found in living things and identify minerals formed by biochemical processes on Earth that might indicate life on other planets.

"Our instrument is one of the most advanced Raman spectrometers ever developed," said M. Nurul Abedin of NASA Langley Research Center, who led the research team. "It overcomes some of the key limitations of traditional micro Raman instruments and is designed to serve as an ideal instrument for future missions that use rovers or landers to explore the surface of Mars or Jupiter's icy Europa moon."

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Category: Science