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A highly sensitive instrument has picked up strong bio-fluorescence signals from fossilized organisms that perished millions of years ago. According to its developers, the new Compact Color Biofinder would be similarly handy at detecting signs of life on other planetary bodies and could therefore play a critical role in future missions by NASA and other space agencies.

Biological materials such as amino acids, proteins, lipids and even sedimentary rocks all emit bio-fluorescence signals that can be detected using special cameras. The Compact Color Biofinder, which was developed by Anupam Misra from the Hawai’i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology at the UH Manoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST), improves on these older cameras by detecting minute amounts of bio-residues that cling to rock. It can also work at a distance of several metres and scan large areas quickly.

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