Life in a Snowflake? Scientists Detect Single Microscopic Cell in Ice Grain.

Scientists are interested in finding out if future missions to icy ocean worlds, like Enceladus, a moon of Saturn, could be able to detect single microbes or even just fragments of microbes trapped within a single grain of ice. This is significant because it could potentially help us determine if there is life on these distant worlds.

One way to detect microbes in ice is with a technique called mass spectrometry. In a recent study, researchers examined how instruments on future missions, like the SUrface Dust Analyzer (SUDA) on NASA's Europa Clipper, might be able to identify single bacterial cells (or pieces of cells) within ice grains from ocean worlds. [Image of Europa Clipper mission]

The researchers used mass spectrometry to analyze the impacts of ice grains that may have contained single bacterial cells. Mass spectrometry is a technique that can identify the different molecules within a sample by measuring their mass-to-charge ratio. By analyzing the mass spectra of the impacts, the researchers were able to determine the signatures that bacteria in ice grains might leave behind.

This study is an important step in developing the technology that will be needed to search for life on icy ocean worlds. If future missions can successfully detect microbes in ice grains, it would be a major breakthrough in our understanding of the potential for life beyond Earth.

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