NASA Develops a Test to ID Extraterrestrial Life

California’s otherworldly Mono Lake is three-quarters of a million years old and highly alkaline, yet life manages to thrive there. (Credit: Mono County Tourism)

NASA researchers have modified a decades-old chemistry technique called capillary electrophoresis to identify the amino acids necessary for life, and have tested its success in California’s Mono Lake. The lake’s exceptionally high alkaline content makes it a challenging habitat for life—and an excellent substitute for the salty subsurface water believed to be on Mars and the icy moons Enceladus and Europa.

“Using our method, we are able to tell the difference between amino acids that come from non-living sources like meteorites versus amino acids that come from living organisms,” said the project’s principal investigator Peter Willis from JPL in Pasadena, CA.

This sampling method is 10,000 times more sensitive than anything capable by existing spacecraft like the Curiosity rover.

Read the full story from NASA here: A New Test for Life on Other Planets