The new protocol was developed as part of a project to investigate life that exists in extreme Arctic environments, which are the closest analogue we have on Earth to the surface of Mars. The studies are also designed to help guide future NASA and ESA planetary missions.
Published today in the journal Astrobiology, the decontamination protocol was developed and tested by scientists at the University of Leeds and NASA. It deals with the dilemma known as 'forward contamination' - ensuring that bugs from Earth don't hitch a ride across space and jeopardise the integrity of samples collected by rovers.
The decontamination protocol involves a cocktail of chemicals that were applied and tested on various sampling devices, including a glacial ice core drill and a rover scoop.
"We are trying to avoid a case of mistaken identity," says Professor Liane Benning, a biogeochemist from the University of Leeds and co-author of the paper.
"We know that on Mars, if present, any biological signatures will be extremely scarce. Therefore it is essential that we are able to minimise 'background noise' and to document just how clean our sampling devices really are before we use them," she adds.
"We are now able to fully decontaminate sampling devices in the lab and field to null levels of detectable organic biosignatures, before any samples are collected. Importantly, this new procedure doesn't just sterilise, but it also cleans off any trace organic molecules of dead organisms," says Professor Benning.
The work was carried out as part of the Arctic Mars Analog Svalbard Expeditions (AMASE) which uses Svalbard (a set of islands in the Arctic ocean at 74-80˚N) as an international test site for NASA and ESA "Search for Life" instrumentation scheduled to fly on future Mars missions.
Svalbard is an excellent terrestrial analogue environment to Mars as life is scarce and it has a similar geology and many pristine glaciers.
"This work also enabled recent habitability and biomarker preservation studies in the extreme glacial settings of Svalbard. In addition, this work will guide future planetary missions, especially those to icy regions in the Solar System, such as Mars, or the moons of Jupiter and Saturn (Europa and Enceladus) where we are interested in understanding the potential habitats of cold-loving organisms living in ice," says Dr Jennifer Eigenbrode, NASA research scientist.
This work was carried out during the 2005 and 2006 field seasons of AMASE and was funded by a NASA ASTEP award to co-author Andrew Steele at the Carnegie Institution of Washington and grants from the Earth and Biosphere Institute at the University of Leeds to Liane G. Benning.
For further information
Liane G. Benning is available for interview via the University of Leeds press office, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel: + 44 113 343 8059, Mobile: +44 7976 929 746
Jenifer Eigenbrode can be contacted on email@example.com
Caption for attached photo: Testing of next generation rovers onboard the Arctic Mars Analogue Svalbard Expedition. This "Cliffbot" rover is being designed to sample rock outcrops on Mars and the Moon where scientifically relevant samples are easier to access.
Accreditation: Photo courtesy of Kvell Ove Storvik, Arctic Mars Analog Svalbard Expedition (AMASE). Rover courtesy of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology.
Notes for Editors
The paper 'A Field-Based Cleaning Protocol for Sampling Devices Used in Life-Detection Studies' published in Astrobiology is available to journalists on request.
Prof. Liane G. Benning is a professor of experimental biogeochemistry in the School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds.
Dr Jennifer Eigenbrode is a research scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
The University of Leeds is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK with more than 30,000 students from 130 countries and a turnover of £450m. The University is a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities and the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise showed it to be the UK's eighth biggest research powerhouse. The University's vision is to secure a place among the world's top 50 by 2015. www.leeds.ac.uk
The School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds has more than 60 academic staff, 35 support staff and over 50 Postdoctoral Research Fellows and Associates. It focuses on a multidisciplinary approach to understanding our environment, studying the Earth from its core to its atmosphere and examining the social and economic dimensions of sustainability. www.see.leeds.ac.uk/index.htm
Clare Ryan | EurekAlert!
Climate cycles may explain how running water carved Mars' surface features
02.12.2016 | Penn State
What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?
02.12.2016 | University of Toronto
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy