New research plans to refine criteria that guide the search for alien life

October 4th, 2008 - 12:56 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Oct 4 (ANI): NASA has picked up a research team from Arizona State University (ASU) to boost the search for extraterrestrial life, by refining the criteria that guide the search for life.

Humans have long pondered the possibility that life exists beyond Earth. The quest for habitable worlds has focused on searching for water, but following the water turns out to be too general a criterion.

The list of planets and satellites that possess liquid water is growing faster than can be explored.

As one of the new NASA Astrobiology Institute teams, Arizona State University researchers intend to boost extraterrestrial exploration to the next stage by refining the criteria that guide the search for life.

Under the direction of Ariel Anbar, a professor in ASUs School of Earth and Space Exploration, the team plans to refine the criteria to guide the search for life by characterizing lifes elemental requirements.

Astrobiologists assume that life may develop and survive on any planet that has water and energy.

But, in the search for extraterrestrial life, these criteria are too vague. Within, the solar system there is abundant evidence of water-rich environments.

Focused exploration on Mars has identified many ancient aqueous environments. Galileo spacecraft data indicate that the icy crust of Europa conceals a salty ocean, and the Cassini mission discovered water jets on Enceladus.

Beyond the solar system, there are probably many Earth-like planets.

Theories suggest that many of these planets are waterworlds, with oceans so deep that they have no exposed continents. All of these environments have sufficient energy to support microbial life.

Water and energy are necessary but not sufficient, said Anbar.

According to Anbar, Look at Earth. Nearly half the planets surface is covered by ocean regions in which life is scarce. The reason is that these regions dont have high enough concentrations of the chemical elements necessary for life. So the next step in the search for life is to follow the elements.

The team will pursue a three-pronged research initiative to explore the relationship between the elemental composition of organisms and their environments, the impact of planetary processes on the abundance of bioessential elements, and the effects of astrophysical processes on the abundance of life-supporting elements.

Planetary missions within the solar system are expensive and rare and investigations outside the solar system are not feasible for all of the hundreds of anticipated Earth-like planets with liquid water.

The resources available for astrobiology exploration are limited, so narrowing down the search criteria will be beneficial. (ANI)

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