New optical device will find living plants on distant planets

As a result of many years of research, the Dutch biologist Lucas Patti from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam has created an optical device - the TreePol spectropolarimeter, capable of detecting living plants thousands of kilometers away.

This became possible due to the unique property of light reflection by living beings. Perhaps, in the future, with its help, astrobiologists will be able to find life on distant planets.

In his doctoral dissertation, Patti called this property the phenomenon of chirality, or molecular orientation, in biological systems. It affects the ability of living organisms to reflect light, which leads to its partial polarization.

In the first phase in 2015, Patti examined biomarkers using instruments that can detect curling of reflected light from ivy and ficus leaves.

The next step was to install TreePol on the roof of a building to detect grass on a football field near the university. To the scientist's surprise, the instrument did not respond. Later it turned out that the lawn of the field was artificial, and only live grass and trees at a distance of several kilometers "responded" to the TreePol signals.

According to the scientist, his device, installed on an airplane or satellite, will help in monitoring agricultural crops, and in the near future - in the search for life on other planets.