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Proceedings Paper

Laser induced fluorescence emission (L.I.F.E.): in situ and remote detection of life in Antarctic and Alaskan ice
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Paper Abstract

Once thought to be a barren desert devoid of life, it now appears that Earth's cryosphere is an ice ecosystem harbouring a rich community of metabolically active microorganisms inhabiting ice, snow, water, and lithic environments. The ability to rapidly survey this ecosystem during in situ and orbital missions is of considerable interest for monitoring Earth's carbon budget and for efficiently searching for life on Mars or any exoplanet with an analogous cryosphere. Laser induced fluorescence emission (L.I.F.E.) imaging and spectroscopy using excitation in ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths have been proposed as non-destructive astrobiological survey tools to search for amino acids, nucleic acids, microbial life, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) deep in the Mars regolith. However, the technique is easily adapted to search for larger, more complex biomolecular targets using longer wavelength sources. Of particular interest is the ability for excitation at blue, green, and red wavelengths to produce visible and near infrared fluorescence of photosynthetic pigments in cyanobacteria-dominated microbial communities populating the ice of alpine, Arctic, and Antarctic lakes, glaciers, ice sheets, and even the supercooled water-ice droplets of clouds. During the Tawani 2008 International Antarctic Expedition we tested the in situ use of the technique as part of a field campaign in the Dry Valleys of Schirmacher Oasis and Lake Untersee, Queen Maud Land, Antarctica. In the spring of 2009, we performed airborne remote sensing tests of the technology in Alaska. In this paper we review our in situ laser detection experiments and present for the first time preliminary results on our efforts to detect cryosphere L.I.F.E. from an airborne platform.

Paper Details

Date Published: 11 September 2009
PDF: 8 pages
Proc. SPIE 7441, Instruments and Methods for Astrobiology and Planetary Missions XII, 744109 (11 September 2009); doi: 10.1117/12.831288
Show Author Affiliations
Michael C. Storrie-Lombardi, Kinohi Institute (United States)
Birgit Sattler, Univ. of Innsbruck (Austria)


Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 7441:
Instruments and Methods for Astrobiology and Planetary Missions XII
Kurt D. Retherford; Richard B. Hoover; Gilbert V. Levin; Alexei Yu. Rozanov, Editor(s)

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