Forget aliens — these NASA drones track methane

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Grist

Believe it or not, NASA doesn’t just launch scads of money into outer space: The agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) may specialize in Mars Rover technology, but it’s also in the process of adapting its space-worthy sensors to detect methane leaks here on Earth.

The sensors in question were originally developed to help scientists sniff for life on Mars (because, ironically, methane is believed to be a good predictor of life on other planets). Since methane is the second most common greenhouse gas emitted in the U.S., and it makes up 95 percent of the natural gas in our pipelines, any technology that makes it easier to find and eliminate leaks could be hugely beneficial for the planet.

The martian detectors — officially known as tunable laser spectrometers — are one-foot long, hand-held devices that will help utility workers find leaks along natural gas pipelines. JPL is also partnering with Pacific Gas & Electric, a California-based…

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