Circular Spectropolarimetric Sensing of Vegetation in the Field: Possibilities for the Remote Detection of Extraterrestrial Life

Astrobiology. 2019 Oct;19(10):1221-1229. doi: 10.1089/ast.2019.2050. Epub 2019 Aug 27.


Homochirality is a generic and unique property of all biochemical life, and the fractional circular polarization of light it induces therefore constitutes a potentially unambiguous biosignature. However, while high-quality circular polarimetric spectra can be easily and quickly obtained in the laboratory, accurate measurements in the field are much more challenging due to large changes in illumination and target movement. In this study, we measured various targets in the field, up to distances of a few kilometers, using the dedicated circular spectropolarimeter TreePol. We show how photosynthetic life can readily be distinguished from abiotic matter. We underline the potential of circular polarization signals as a remotely accessible means to characterize and monitor terrestrial vegetation, for example, for agriculture and forestry. In addition, we discuss the potential of circular polarization for the remote detection of extraterrestrial life.

Keywords: Biosignatures; Circular spectropolarimetry; Homochirality; Life detection; Photosynthesis; Remote sensing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Exobiology*
  • Extraterrestrial Environment*
  • Light
  • Plant Leaves / chemistry
  • Plants*
  • Remote Sensing Technology*
  • Spectrum Analysis*