NASA: Sniffs Out Life On Mars Using Bio-Indicator LiDAR Instrument (BILI) [Video]By Noi Ramirez, UniversityHerald Reporter
NASA might send out a Rover to sniff out Mars for traces of life using a new prototype that employs a sensing technique first used by the military.
The instrument is called a Bio-indicator LiDAR instrument or BILI. Lidar is an acronym for light detection and ranging and if that sounds familiar, it is probably because of Google evaluating the technology for use in self-driving automobiles. Lately, Ford invested in Civil Maps, a startup that makes software that turns LiDAR data into maps for automated vehicles.
NASA technologist, Branimir Blagojevic, at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, develops the prototype but instead of identifying biohazards like what the military have been doing, the tech could also be effective in detecting organic bio-signatures on Mars.
BILI is a fluorescence-based LiDAR, a type of remote-sensing instrument comparable to radar in principle and operation, according to NASA. LiDAR, instead of using radio waves uses light to detect and analyze particle composition in the atmosphere by emitting ultraviolet laser pulses. The light pulses then ricochet off particles that can be analyzed.
Blagojevic said that NASA never used the technology for planetary ground level exploration before. He continues on saying that if there are organic traces on the planet, it could be detected in the dust. Blagojevic and his team consider BILI as "a rover's sense of smell.
The intended plan is to put BILI onto a rover mat on Mars then it would scan the terrain for dust plumes. When the plumes are located, BILI would fire ultraviolet lasers that would cause the particles inside the plume to light up or fluoresce. That fluorescence would then be analyzed if it contains organic particles that recent or from the past, according to Slash Gear.
Testing for BILI is currently ongoing here on earth though the researchers did not say when and if NASA would plan to use the LiDAR system. Reports say that NASA is set to send another rover to Mars in the summer of 2020.