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.
Rob Gutro | EurekAlert!
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