An instrument containing a neutron generator, a neutron lens and a gamma-ray detector, could be used to investigate important biological indicators of life on distant worlds – just like Star Trek’s tricorder.
The system provides a three-dimensional scanning instrument that focuses a beam of neutrons into an object. When the nucleus of an atom inside the rock captures the neutrons, it produces a gamma-ray signal for that element, which the gamma-ray detector then analyzes. The location of the elements can also be plotted; nformation can then be turned into an image of the elements within the rock. Scientists could then tell whether a certain type of bacteria had become fossilized inside the rock.
Many of us remember the tricorder from the original Star Trek series of the mid-1960’s. The standard Starfleet tricorder was used for determining various characteristics of landing areas like life form readings.