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New test by NASA Scientists to detect signs of Life on Exoplanets

The test uses a liquid-based technique known as capillary electrophoresis to separate a mixture of organic molecules into its components

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U.S.A, Jan 30, 2017: NASA scientists have developed a new chemical assay that could aid the search for life on exoplanets by identifying the presence of amino acids, the compounds that make up proteins and are the building blocks of life.

The test uses a liquid-based technique known as capillary electrophoresis to separate a mixture of organic molecules into its components.

It was designed by researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in the US specifically to analyse for amino acids, the structural building blocks of all life on Earth.

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The method is 10,000 times more sensitive than current methods employed by spacecraft like NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover, according to researchers.

 

One of the key advantages of the new way of using capillary electrophoresis is that the process is relatively simple and easy to automate for liquid samples expected on ocean world missions.

 

It involves combining a liquid sample with a liquid reagent, followed by chemical analysis under conditions determined by the team.

 

By shining a laser across the mixture – a process known as laser-induced fluorescence detection – specific molecules can be observed moving at different speeds. They get separated based on how quickly they respond to electric fields.

 

While capillary electrophoresis has been around since the early 1980s, this is the first time it has been tailored specifically to detect extraterrestrial life on an ocean world, said Jessica Creamer, a postdoctoral scholar at JPL.

 

“Our method improves on previous attempts by increasing the number of amino acids that can be detected in a single run,” Creamer said.

 

“Additionally, it allows us to detect these amino acids at very low concentrations, even in highly salty samples, with a very simple ‘mix and analyse’ process,” she said.

 

The researchers used the technique to analyse amino acids present in the salt-rich waters of Mono Lake in California.

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The lake’s exceptionally high alkaline content makes it a challenging habitat for life, and an excellent stand-in for salty waters believed to be on Mars, or the ocean worlds of Saturn’s moon Enceladus and Jupiter’s moon Europa.

 

The researchers were able to simultaneously analyse 17 different amino acids, which they are calling “the Signature 17 standard.” These amino acids were chosen for study because they are the most commonly found on Earth or elsewhere.

 

“Using our method, we are able to tell the difference between amino acids that come from non-living sources like meteorites versus amino acids that come from living organisms,” said the project’s principal investigator, Peter Willis of JPL.

 

The study was published in the journal Analytical Chemistry. (IANS)
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Kalpana Chawala: The Woman Who Made The Difference

Kalpana’s dream break to fly in space came in November 1997, aboard the space shuttle Columbia on flight STS-87

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The forename Kalpana denotes
The forename Kalpana denotes "idea" or "imagination." Wikimedia Commons
  • Kalpana Chawla continues to be an inspirational force for youth all-over, especially girls
  • Kalpana Chawla earned a doctorate in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado in 1988
  • In the year 2000, Chawla was selected for her second voyage into space, serving again as a mission specialist on STS-107

Kalpana Chawala is one of the inspiring personality and an Ideal for numerous people, it’s been 18 years since her passing, but Indo-American astronaut, Kalpana Chawla continues to be an inspirational force for youth all-over, especially girls. Born in Karnal-Punjab, Kalpana overcame all odds and fulfilled her dream of reaching for the stars.

Kalpana achieved a grade in aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College before immigrating to the United States and becoming a naturalized citizen in the 1980s. She earned a doctorate in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado in 1988, having previously obtained her master’s degree from the University of Texas. She began working at NASA’s Ames Research Center the same year, working on power-lift computational fluid dynamics.

In 1994, Kalpana was selected as an astronaut candidate. She was appointed as a crew representative for the Astronaut Office EVA/Robotics and Computer Branches after a year of training, where she worked with Robotic Situational Awareness Displays and tested software for the space shuttles.

kalpana chawala’s Death was a very uncertain demise of one of the finest astronaut the world ever had.

In 1988, Kalpana’s dream of joining NASA finally came true. Wikimedia Commons
In 1988, Kalpana’s dream of joining NASA finally came true. Wikimedia Commons

Early life: Kalpana Chawala was born on March 17, 1962, in Karnal, Haryana. Born into a middle-class family, she completed her schooling from Tagore Baal Niketan Senior Secondary School, Karnal and her B.Tech in Aeronautical Engineering from Punjab Engineering College at Chandigarh, India in 1982.

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Kalpana Chawala was the youngest of four children in her family. The forename Kalpana denotes “idea” or “imagination.” Her full name is pronounced CULL-puh-na CHAV-la, though she often went by the nickname K.C.

Journey in the United States: To fulfil her desire of becoming an astronaut, Kalpana aimed to join NASA and moved to the United States in 1982. She obtained a Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1984 and a second Master’s in 1986. She then earned a doctorate in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Wedding bells: There’s always time for romance. In 1983, Kalpana tied the knot with Jean-Pierre Harrison, a flying instructor and an aviation author.

Work at NASA: In 1988, Kalpana’s dream of joining NASA finally came true. For the position of Vice President of Overset Methods, Kalpana Chawala was appointed at NASA Research Center and was later assigned to do Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) research on Vertical/Short Takeoff and Landing concepts.

Kalpana’s dream break to fly in space came in November 1997, aboard the space shuttle Columbia on flight STS-87. The space shuttle made 252 orbits of the Earth in just over two weeks. The space aircraft completed a number of experiments and observing tools on its trip, including a Spartan satellite, which Chawla deployed from the shuttle. The satellite, which studied the outer layer of the sun, malfunctioned due to software errors, and two other astronauts from the shuttle had to perform a spacewalk to recapture it.

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Kalpana Chawala Rocket Crash

In the year 2000, Chawala was selected for her second voyage into space, serving again as a mission specialist on STS-107. The mission was delayed several times and finally launched in 2003. Over the course of the 16-day flight, the crew completed more than 80 experiments.

In 1994, Chawla was selected as an astronaut candidate. She was appointed as a crew representative for the Astronaut Office EVA/Robotics and Computer Branches after a year of training. Wikimedia Commons
In 1994, Chawla was selected as an astronaut candidate. She was appointed as a crew representative for the Astronaut Office EVA/Robotics and Computer Branches after a year of training. Wikimedia Commons

On the morning of Feb. 1, 2003, the space shuttle returned to Earth, intending to land at Kennedy Space Center. At launch, a briefcase-sized piece of insulation had broken off and damaged the thermal protection system of the shuttle’s wing, the shield that protects it from heat during re-entry. When the aircraft moved through the atmosphere, hot gas streaming into the wing caused it to break up. The unstable craft rolled and bucked, pitching the astronauts about. Less than a minute passed before the ship depressurized killing the crew. The shuttle broke up over Texas and Louisiana before plunging into the ground. This incident was the second major disaster for the space shuttle program, following the 1986 explosion of the shuttle Challenge.

In the disastrous damage of the space shuttle, Columbia took the lives of seven astronauts. One of those, Kalpana Chawla, was the first Indian-born woman in space.