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To search for life on Mars, future astronauts would naturally want to step outside their living habitat for a walk. But the spacesuits keeping them alive might also carry Earth microbes or ingredients of life that could contaminate the red planet and complicate the search for extraterrestrial life.

That danger has driven scientists to simulate the contamination risks. Tiny fluorescent tracers stood in for microbes during mock Mars missions with spacesuit simulators in the San Rafael desert of Utah. Simply shining a laser pointer on the spacesuits allowed the researchers to detect levels of contamination based on the fluorescent response.

Such tests may help ensure that contamination risks do not "endanger the entire science of searching for life on Mars," according to Gernot Groemer, president of the Austrian Space Forum and lead researcher on the contamination experiments.

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Category: Science