US space agency Nasa has funded a study of "tractor beams" to gather samples for analysis in future missions.
The $100,000 (£63,000) award will be used to examine three laser-based approaches to do what has until now been the stuff of science fiction.
Several tractor-beam ideas have been published in the scientific literature but none has yet been put to use.
Nasa scientist Paul Stysley says the approach could "enhance science goals and reduce mission risk".
"Though a mainstay in science fiction, and Star Trek in particular, laser-based trapping isn't fanciful or beyond current technological know-how," said Dr Stysley of Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center, whose group was awarded the research funding.
The team has identified three possible options to capture and gather up sample material either in future orbiting spacecraft or on planetary rovers.
One is an adaptation of a well-known effect called "optical tweezers" in which objects can be trapped in an area where two laser beams cross. However, this version of the approach would require an atmosphere in which to operate.
The other two methods rely on specially shaped laser beams - instead of a beam whose intensity peaks at its centre and tails off gradually, the team is investigating two alternatives: solenoid beams and Bessel beams.
The intensity peaks within a solenoid beam are found in a spiral around the line of the beam itself, while a Bessel beam's intensity rises and falls in peaks and troughs at higher distances from the beam's line. more: http://www.bbc.co.uk...onment-15535115