European researchers said Monday they have devised the first tiny motion detector that could help find microscopic life forms on distant planets.

Until now, scientists have tried to find signs of extraterrestrial life by listening for sounds that might be emitted from an alien world, by scanning the skies with potent telescopes and by sending robotic probes and rovers to analyze the chemical fingerprint of samples from comets and planets.

But researchers in Switzerland and Belgium were interested in a new method. Taking advantage of movement, which they call “a universal signature of life,” they would aim to sense on a nanolevel the tiny motions that all life forms make.

They began to explore the possibility of searching for life with a sensor attuned to those nanoscale vibrations in microscopic organisms such as bacteria and yeast.

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