The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile just got a major upgrade. The space exploration tool has some new Band 5 receivers installed that greatly improve the wavelengths detectable by the array.
The most exciting aspect of the new receivers is the increase in ease of finding water on celestial bodies, and thereby giving a clearer treasure map on the long road to finding alien life. According to European ALMA Programme Scientist, Leonardo Testi, “The new receivers will make it much easier to detect water, a prerequisite for life as we know it, in our Solar System and in more distant regions of our galaxy and beyond. They will also allow ALMA to search for ionized carbon in the primordial Universe.”
The upgrade was tested by observing a objects such as colliding galaxies and a red dwarf star on the verge of a supernova. Astronomers are excited at the new prospects afforded by this increased power. ESO team member Robert Laing discussed these possibilities: "In the future, the high sensitivity and angular resolution of the full ALMA array will allow us to make detailed studies of water in a wide range of objects including forming and evolved stars, the interstellar medium and regions close to supermassive black holes."
Where There's Water...
The search for alien life is closely tied to the search for extraterrestrial water. Every living organism on Earth requires water for life, so it is very possible for the same to be true of alien worlds. It may turn out that someday this hard and fast rule isn't 100 percent accurate. However, at this point, it serves as an understandable way to focus our limited resources.
Planets with water will also play an important role in the space mining industry. The ability to limit the supplies mining missions would have to bring would rely on the ability of these missions to use the resources of space to their advantage. One such important resource is water. The ability to harvest water from the environment will allow for longer missions and less space during transit to store it.