NASA’s Chemical Laptop to Search for Extraterrestrial Life

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Chemical Laptop

NASA scientists are reportedly developing a Chemical Laptop that would be programmed to detect both amino acids and fatty acids, which are one of the most essential components of life on another world. The device would be the first sensitive, portable and miniaturised laboratory that might be sent to space.

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins whereas fatty acids are the key components of cell membrane. Amino acids are of two types, namely left–handed and right–handed. According to scientists, most of the life on the earth used left–handed amino acids to evolve. It is possible that life on the other planets would have been evolved from the right–handed. The Chemical Laptop would therefore, search for the left and right–handed kind on the other planets. If this test finds a 50–50 mixture of the left and right–handed amino acids, it could be concluded that the sample was probably not of a biological origin. However, on the contrary, if this test detects an excess of any one among the two, it could be concluded that life does exist on other planets as well. Similarly, the Chemical Laptop would analyse the length of the carbon chain in fatty acids to determine whether life on the planet once existed, or still exists.

The device, which is roughly the size of a regular laptop, is much thicker to accommodate the chemical analysis components. The Chemical Laptop being developed at the NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) would look for life on other planets, including Mars. The device is a chemical analyser that can be reprogrammed like a laptop to perform different functions.

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