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In everyday life we look and touch things to find out what they are made of. A powerful scientific technique does the same using lasers – and in two years' time it will fly in space for the first time.

A researcher working with ESA has been investigating how lasers might be used in future space missions.

"We fire a laser at a material of interest," explains Melissa McHugh of Leicester University in the UK, "and measure how much
itscolour is changed as it scatters off the surface, to identify the molecules responsible.

"This is a well-established technique terrestrially – used in all kinds of fields from security to pharmacology to art history – either in labs or using hand-held devices."

ESA's ExoMars rover will carry the first such unit into space in 2020 to help search out potential biomarkers of past or present life on Mars, and mineral remnants of the planet's warm, wet past.

"My research has been looking at how far we can extend the technique in future," adds Melissa.

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Category: Science