Method For Detecting Extraterrestrial Life Is Used On Earth For The First Time

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A tool created for detecting plant life from miles away has potential uses for detecting extraterrestrials.

Dutch scientists have created an instrument designed to detect the presence of living plants through measuring light reflections, according to the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).

The TreePol spectropolarimeter, as the device is called, takes advantage of the uniquely rotated light that living foliage constantly reflect and can identify the presence of foliage from miles away. Although Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam researcher Lucas Patty designed the TreePol specifically for detecting circularly polarized light reflected by living plants, the instrument has countless potential uses.

Scientists currently speculate whether TreePol's range can be extended for use in an aircraft or satellite to monitor agricultural crops. Co-developer Frans Snik of Leiden Unviersity reported that they are “also working on a version that could be employed on the international space station or on a moon lander.”

TreePol also has potential for scientists and researchers concerned with extraterrestrial life. In the past 20 years, astronomers have uncovered thousands of planets that orbit stars other than our sun. They have often relied on searching for conditions that are necessary for life, namely water, oxygen, and carbon. But the presence of these elements do not necessarily indicate the presence of life, and researchers risk reporting a false positive. As it currently stands, however, TreePol has no known false positives, allowing it to potentially serve as a more accurate tool of assessing extraterrestrial life.

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