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Laboratory experiments show, it is possible to identify amino acids, fatty acids and peptides on extraterrestrial water worlds

Artist’s impression of the Cassini spacecraft flying by Enceladus and its water/ice vapor plume. Potential biomolecules in emitted ice grains could be detected on Enceladus and other ocean worlds.

Artist’s impression of the Cassini spacecraft flying by Enceladus and its water/ice vapor plume. Potential biomolecules in emitted ice grains could be detected on Enceladus and other ocean worlds.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL

News from Dec 12, 2019

Reliably identifying biosignatures, such as amino acids, fatty acids and peptides, in ice grains emitted by extraterrestrial ocean worlds is key to the search for life or its emergence on these worlds. Fabian Klenner and his team from the Planetary Sciences and Remote Sensing research group at Freie Universität Berlin have performed laboratory analogue experiments to accurately simulate ice grain impacts onto spaceborne mass spectrometers. These showed that it is possible to clearly identify amino acids, fatty acids and peptides in ice grains detected in space, even at very low concentrations (a few tens of molecules per ice grain). The researchers inferred that space detectors are most sensitive to these organic biosignatures at encounter velocities of 4-6 km/s and that the biomolecules do not break up at these impact velocities. The results were published on 11 December 2019 in Astrobiology.

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