(ORDO NEWS) — Oceanic worlds such as Jupiter’s Europa and Saturn’s Enceladus are very promising for the search for extraterrestrial life because they have potentially habitable environments.
Organic molecules in living organisms have unique biochemical signatures that can be detected using special tools. NASA is currently developing instruments for the Ocean Worlds Life Surveyor (OWLS) that could be used on future missions to explore Europa and Enceladus.
OWLS will include capillary electrophoresis (CE) and mass spectrometry (MS) instruments that can separate, identify and quantify various chemicals.
However, all of these sampling, analysis, and cataloging results in large amounts of raw data, with each sampling generating 100 megabytes or more. The problem is how to get all this data from distant moons to scientists on Earth?
In a new study published in the journal Earth and Space Science, scientists have figured out how best to compress and prioritize this data to reduce transmission requirements while keeping vital information from an onboard instrument intact.
To do this, the researchers created an onboard software called the Autonomous Capillary Electrophoresis Mass-spectra Examination (ACME).
Using lab samples, the team tested how well the ACME system could detect signal peaks corresponding to concentrations of various molecules in raw CE-MS data. The researchers also modeled how the information obtained from sampling can be compressed and transmitted.
They found that ACME could generalize and compress raw data by 2-3 orders of magnitude while retaining the most scientifically relevant information.
The researchers note that ACME can also prioritize data transmission by assessing the presence of potentially important compounds in a sample. In the future, these capabilities will help researchers identify key sampling areas and maximize the scientific return on missions to icy moons.
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