We propose to validate an innovative spectropolarimeter which is exceptionally sensitive to circular polarization. The polarimeter is small and robust, has no moving parts, is simple in concept and extremely well-suited to space. Full polarimetric information is encoded on a single data frame hence polarimetry of transient, fast moving or variable targets can be acquired.
The goals of Focus Area S1.11 In Situ Instruments/Technologies and Plume Sampling Systems for Ocean Worlds Life Detection are to advance science instruments focused on the detection of life, especially extant life in the Ocean Worlds, including innovative new scientific measurements. Our proposed polarimeter with its exceptional circular polarization measurement capability has particular relevance to these goals.
Circular polarization serves as a pure agnostic biosignature, symptomatic of the uniquely biological phenomenon of homochirality. S1.11 seeks “Life detection approaches optimized for evaluating and analyzing the composition of ice matrices with unknown pH and salt content. Instruments capable of detecting and identifying organic molecules (in particular biomolecules), … such as … organic analysis instruments with chiral discrimination.” Circular polarization spectroscopy is sensitive to any chiral structures, including those of amino acids, proteins and more, without specificity, hence provides a truly generic, agnostic life detection capacity.
The instrument’s optimal response to circular polarization leads to mission relevant sensitivity for life detection. Dissolved salts and pH level have no influence. The polarimeter simultaneously and independently measures circular and linear polarization hence offering a powerful tool for the characterization of surfaces and particles with implications for habitability.
In situ life detection capability relevant to Ocean Worlds missions such as the Europa Lander
In situ life detection for Ocean World plume fly-through samples, in particular Enceladus and Europa
Remote sensing for life detection, habitability and physical characterization in solar system exploration in general.
Versatility and low cost provides opportunity in the private space sector.
Sensitivity to circular polarization leads to application in the biological sciences: medicine, pharmacy, agriculture.
Polarimetry of time dependent phenomena enables application in physics and biology.
Education is a major commercial opportunity, synergistically building on NASAs mission to search for life in the Universe