Saturday, July 02, 2005

Life detection instrument passes key test on road to Mars

SpaceRef - Your Space Reference: "In a place that hadn't seen a blade of grass or a bug for ages, and contending with dust and temperature extremes that left her either freezing or sweating, Skelley ran 340 tests that proved the instrument could unambiguously detect amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. More importantly, she and Mathies were able to detect the preference of Earth's amino acids for left-handedness over right-handedness. This 'homochirality' is a hallmark of life that Mathies thinks is a critical test that must be done on Mars. 'We feel that measuring homochirality - a prevalence of one type of handedness over another - would be absolute proof of life,' said Mathies, professor of chemistry at UC Berkeley and Skelley's research advisor. 'We've shown on Earth, in the most Mars-like environment available, that this instrument is a thousand times better at detecting biomarkers than any instrument put on Mars before.' "