Scientists working to `perfect` ways to identify signs of life on Mars

Washington : Scientists are working to polish the techniques used to identify sign of life on the Red Planet.

Assistant professor, Alison Olcott Marshall, at the University of Kansas, along with her colleague and husband, Craig Marshall, also an associate professor, is working to improve the way scientists detect condensed aromatic carbon, thought to be a chemical signature of astrobiology.

Craig Marshall said if they were going to identify life on Mars, it would likely be the fossil remnants of the chemicals once synthesized by life, and they hope the research helped to strengthen the ability to evaluate the evidence collected on Mars.

Craig Marshall is an expert in using Raman spectroscopy to look for carbonaceous materials, while Alison Olcott Marshall is a paleontologist interested in how the record of life gets preserved on Earth, especially when there is no bone or shell or tooth or other hard part to fossilize.

If traces if ancient biology are detected in Mars, the KU researchers want to make sure the evidence is more conclusive.

According to a recent paper by the Marshalls in the peer-reviewed Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, by itself Raman spectroscopy is able to screen for carbonaceous material, but it can’t determine its source — thus the technology needs to be supplemented in order to determine if life exists on Mars.

The Marshalls call for the use of gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy to supplement Raman spectroscopy and develop more conclusive evidence of ancient extraterrestrial life.

Currently, the KU researchers are extending this line of investigation by using Raman spectroscopy to analyze rocks from Earth that are similar to those on Mars. They hope to publish their findings in the near future.

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