Future Space Criminals Will Face 'Astroforensics'

Crime scene investigator Zack Kowalske has been testing blood spatters in zero gravity
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 12, 2024 1:18 PM CDT
Crime Scene Investigator Preps for Murder Probes in Space
   (Getty / mik28)

The emerging field of astroforensics will be called upon whenever humanity faces its first murder in space. Until that time, Zack Kowalske, a crime scene investigator in Atlanta, says "broadening the understanding of all forensic sciences in nonterrestrial environments is critical as we expand into a space-faring species." So how do researchers study crime in space while remaining on Earth? With a little creativity. Opting to study bloodstain pattern analysis in zero or reduced gravity, Kowalske, a PhD candidate at Staffordshire University in the UK, took to the skies for a weightless flight aboard the Zero Gravity Corporation's specially modified Boeing 727, then watched to see how a bloodlike substance spewed, per Interesting Engineering.

The substance made from 40% glycerin and 60% red food coloring, meant to simulate the density and viscosity of human blood, was ejected from a hydraulic syringe toward paper targets during periods of reduced gravity between 0g and 0.05g (compared to 1g on Earth). Looking to reconstruct the angle of impact, researchers had expected "certain mathematical calculations would be more accurate" in reduced gravity, as "gravity and air drag have a noticeable influence on skewing the calculated angle" of blood splatter, Graham Williams, a professor of forensic science at the University of Hull, says in a release. Yet they found new issues arose with the lack of gravitational pull that "caused the calculation to have greater variance."

Basically, "surface tension and cohesion of blood droplets are amplified," meaning "blood in space has a higher tendency to stick to surfaces until a greater force causes detachment" and "blood drops exhibit a slower spread rate and, therefore, have shapes and sizes that would not be reflective on Earth," says Williams, co-author of the study published in Forensic Science International: Reports. Kowalske notes astroforensics is still "in its infancy," but future findings could factor into forensic investigations used to reconstruct "a critical accident on board a space station or shuttle" or a violent crime. "Where humanity goes, so, too, does violence," Kowalske tells the Telegraph. "In a confined environment, tempers can fray and people can snap," adds Williams. (More space stories.)

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