Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

NASA Develops a Nugget to Search for Life in Space

28.07.2005


Astrobiologists, who search for evidence of life on other planets, may find a proposed Neutron/Gamma ray Geologic Tomography (NUGGET) instrument to be one of the most useful tools in their toolbelt.

As conceived by scientists at the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, Md., NUGGET would be able to generate three-dimensional images of fossils embedded in an outcrop of rock or beneath the soil of Mars or another planet. Tomography uses radiation or sound waves to look inside objects. NUGGET could help determine if primitive forms of life took root on Mars when the planet was awash in water eons ago.

Similar to seismic tomography used by the oil industry to locate oil reserves beneath Earth’s surface, NUGGET would look instead for evidence of primitive algae and bacteria that fossilized along the edges of extinct rivers or oceans. As on Earth, these remains could lie just a few centimeters beneath the surface, compressed between layers of silt. If a mechanical rover that explores planet surfaces were equipped with an instrument like NUGGET — capable of peering beneath the surface — then it might be able to reveal evidence of life beyond Earth.



“This is a brand new idea,” said Sam Floyd, the principal investigator on the project, funded this year by Goddard’s Director’s Discretionary Fund. If developed, NUGGET would be able to investigate important biological indicators of life, and quickly and precisely identify areas where scientists might want to take samples of soil or conduct more intensive studies. “It would allow us to do a much faster survey of an area,” Floyd said.

The proposed instrument, which could be carried on a rover or a robot lander, is made up of three fundamentally distinct technologies — a neutron generator, a neutron lens, and a gamma-ray detector.

At the heart of NUGGET is a three-dimensional scanning instrument that beams neutrons into a rock or other object under study. When the nucleus of an atom inside the rock captures the neutrons, it produces a characteristic gamma-ray signal for that element, which the gamma-ray detector then analyzes. It’s also possible to plot the location of the elements.

After this process, information can then be turned into an image of the elements within the rock. By seeing images of certain existing elements, scientists could tell whether a certain type of bacteria had become fossilized inside the rock.

Although the concept of focusing neutrons is not new, the ability to focus them is. Thanks to a Russian scientist who devised the method in the 1980s, scientists today can direct a beam of neutrons through a neutron lens made up of the thousands of long, slender, hair-size glass tubes. The bundle of tubes is shaped so that the neutrons flowing down them can converge at a central point. Since the method’s invention in the 1980s, manufacturing practices have made this type of optical system feasible for space exploration.

The advantage of this technology is that it can create a higher intensity of neutrons at a central point on the object. This increased intensity allows a higher-resolution image to be produced.

Floyd and his co-investigators, Jason Dworkin, John Keller, and Scott Owens, all from NASA GSFC, plan to conduct experiments this summer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) using one of NIST’s neutron-beam lines. By focusing neutrons into various samples (one of which is a meteorite), they hope to make a three-dimensional image of the meteorite’s internal structure.

“If we’re successful, we’ll be in position to say whether a space flight instrument is feasible,” Floyd said, adding that his research should give Goddard the lead role in developing a new class of instruments to support missions for NASA’s search of life in the future.

Rob Gutro | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/technologies/nuggets.html
http://www.nasa.gov/goddard

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Temperature-controlled fiber-optic light source with liquid core
20.06.2018 | Leibniz-Institut für Photonische Technologien e. V.

nachricht New material for splitting water
19.06.2018 | American Institute of Physics

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Temperature-controlled fiber-optic light source with liquid core

In a recent publication in the renowned journal Optica, scientists of Leibniz-Institute of Photonic Technology (Leibniz IPHT) in Jena showed that they can accurately control the optical properties of liquid-core fiber lasers and therefore their spectral band width by temperature and pressure tuning.

Already last year, the researchers provided experimental proof of a new dynamic of hybrid solitons– temporally and spectrally stationary light waves resulting...

Im Focus: Overdosing on Calcium

Nano crystals impact stem cell fate during bone formation

Scientists from the University of Freiburg and the University of Basel identified a master regulator for bone regeneration. Prasad Shastri, Professor of...

Im Focus: AchemAsia 2019 will take place in Shanghai

Moving into its fourth decade, AchemAsia is setting out for new horizons: The International Expo and Innovation Forum for Sustainable Chemical Production will take place from 21-23 May 2019 in Shanghai, China. With an updated event profile, the eleventh edition focusses on topics that are especially relevant for the Chinese process industry, putting a strong emphasis on sustainability and innovation.

Founded in 1989 as a spin-off of ACHEMA to cater to the needs of China’s then developing industry, AchemAsia has since grown into a platform where the latest...

Im Focus: First real-time test of Li-Fi utilization for the industrial Internet of Things

The BMBF-funded OWICELLS project was successfully completed with a final presentation at the BMW plant in Munich. The presentation demonstrated a Li-Fi communication with a mobile robot, while the robot carried out usual production processes (welding, moving and testing parts) in a 5x5m² production cell. The robust, optical wireless transmission is based on spatial diversity; in other words, data is sent and received simultaneously by several LEDs and several photodiodes. The system can transmit data at more than 100 Mbit/s and five milliseconds latency.

Modern production technologies in the automobile industry must become more flexible in order to fulfil individual customer requirements.

Im Focus: Sharp images with flexible fibers

An international team of scientists has discovered a new way to transfer image information through multimodal fibers with almost no distortion - even if the fiber is bent. The results of the study, to which scientist from the Leibniz-Institute of Photonic Technology Jena (Leibniz IPHT) contributed, were published on 6thJune in the highly-cited journal Physical Review Letters.

Endoscopes allow doctors to see into a patient’s body like through a keyhole. Typically, the images are transmitted via a bundle of several hundreds of optical...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Munich conference on asteroid detection, tracking and defense

13.06.2018 | Event News

2nd International Baltic Earth Conference in Denmark: “The Baltic Sea region in Transition”

08.06.2018 | Event News

ISEKI_Food 2018: Conference with Holistic View of Food Production

05.06.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Creating a new composite fuel for new-generation fast reactors

20.06.2018 | Materials Sciences

Game-changing finding pushes 3D-printing to the molecular limit

20.06.2018 | Materials Sciences

Could this material enable autonomous vehicles to come to market sooner?

20.06.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>