AI-based system to look for signs of ancient life on Mars

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on June 27, 2020

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is training the system of Artificial Intelligence that will aid scientists in their quest to look for signs of ancient life on Mars and other planets, as per the Daily Mail report.

The European Space Agency (ESA) Rosalind Franklin 'ExoMars' rover will be the first to have the new AI system when it leaves for the Red Planet in 2022/2023.

The system will be designed as such that it will filter the important information to send back to Earth. This will overcome the limits on how information is transmitted over huge distances in the search for life from distant planets.

The system is being tested on Mars but has been designed to be used in future missions to the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn where distance is a big constraint.

Presenting the work at the Goldschmidt Geochemistry Conference, lead researcher Victoria Da Poian from NASA said this was a 'visionary step in space exploration'.

Giving AI the ability to decide where and when to search for signs of life means the 'most pressing information' will be sent back to Earth-saving time and resources.

“It means that over time we'll have moved from the idea that humans are involved with nearly everything in space, to the idea that computers are equipped with intelligent systems,” said Da Poian cited as saying in the Daily Mail report.

These computers are trained to make some decisions and are able to transmit in priority the most interesting or time-critical information, Polan informed.

Eric Lyness, software lead in the Planetary Environments Lab at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, said smart instruments were essential for planetary exploration.

“It costs a lot of time and money to send the data back to Earth which means scientists can't run as many experiments or analyze as many samples,” said Lyness.

“By using AI to do an initial analysis of the data after it is collected but before it is sent back to Earth, NASA can optimize what we receive, which greatly increases the scientific value of space missions,” Lyness added.

Da Poian and Lyness have been working to train artificial intelligence systems to examine the rock samples and thousands of other data points.

These points of information come from the Mars Organic Molecule Analyser (MOMA), an instrument that will land on Mars within the European Space Agency ExoMars Rosalind Franklin Rover in 2023, Daily Mail report added.

MOMA is a state-of-the-art mass spectrometer-based instrument, capable of analyzing and identifying organic molecules in rocks samples.

It will search for past or present life on the Martian surface and subsurface through analysis of those samples - selected for study by the AI system.

Published on June 27, 2020

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