2011 Annual Science Report

Astrobiology Roadmap Objective 2.1 Reports Reporting  |  SEP 2010 – AUG 2011

Project Reports

  • Detectability of Life

    Detectability of Life investigates the detectability of chemical and biological signatures on the surface of icy worlds, with a focus on spectroscopic techniques, and on spectral bands that are not in some way connected to photosynthesis.Detectability of life investigation has three major objectives: Detection of Life in the Laboratory, Detection of Life in the Field, and Detection of Life from Orbit.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.2 2.1 2.2 4.1 5.3 6.1 6.2 7.1 7.2
  • Astrobiological Exploration of Mars

    The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission, due for launch in November 25th, 2011, has four primary science objectives for looking at habitable environments: assess the biological potential of at least one target environment by determining the nature and inventory of organic carbon compounds; characterize the geology of the landing region at all appropriate spatial scales by investigating the chemical, isotopic, and mineralogical composition of the surface and near-surface materials; investigate planetary processes of relevance to past habitability, including the role of water and carbon dioxide; and characterize the broad spectrum of surface radiation. Project scientist John Grotzinger and other MIT NAI team members have been contributing to numerous aspects of site selection, site evaluation and the optimal Mars environments for biosignature formation and preservation.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 2.1
  • Project 1A: Rb-Sr Geochronology of ALH84001 Demonstrates Early Weathering on Mars

    Rb-Sr geochronology on martian meteorite ALH8400 reveals that an igneous-textured zone within the meteorite yields a mineral isochron consistent with a young 4.1 Ga age for igneous crystallization. In contrast, a mineral isochron from a carbonate-rich zone in the meteorite defines an age of 3951 Ma, which is concordant with the time of carbonate formation and is interpreted as a shock-resetting event. Carbonate from the rock has unusually high initial 87Sr/86Sr ratios and such high ratios require interaction with that were derived from weathered bedrock that had high Rb/Sr, most likely clay alteration products. This places a powerful constraint on the timing of clay weathering on Mars at >4.0 Ga.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1
  • Cosmic Distribution of Chemical Complexity

    The central theme of this project is to explore the possible connections between chemistry in space and the origins of life. We start by tracking the formation and development of chemical complexity in space from simple molecules such as formaldehyde to complex species including amino and nucleic acids. The work focuses on molecular species that are interesting from a biogenic perspective and on understanding their possible roles in the origin of life on habitable worlds. We do this by measuring the spectra and chemistry of analog materials in the laboratory, by remote sensing in small spacecraft and by analysis of extraterrestrial samples returned by spacecraft or that fall to Earth as meteorites. We then use these results to interpret astronomical observations made with ground-based and orbiting telescopes.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 2.1 2.2 3.1 3.2 3.4 4.3 7.1 7.2
  • Advancing Methods for the Analyses of Organics Molecules in Sediments

    Eigenbrode’s astrobiological research focuses on understanding the formation and preservation of organic and isotopic sedimentary records of ancient Earth, Mars, and icy bodies. To this end, and as part of GCA’s Theme IV effort, Eigenbrode seeks to overcome sampling and analytical challenges associated with organic analyses of astrobiology relevant samples with modification and development of contamination tracking, sampling, and analytical methods (primarily GCMS) that improve the recovery of meaningful observations and provide protocol guidance for future astrobiological missions. Advances have been made in five sub-studies and manuscript writing is in progress. Studies include: 1 & 2. Advancing protocols for organic molecular studies of iron-oxide rich sediments and sediments laden with perchlorate, 3. Carbon Isotopic Records of the Neoarchean, 4. Solid-phase sorbtive extraction of organic molecules in glacial ice, and 5. Amino acid composition of glacial ice.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 4.1 5.1 5.2 5.3 6.1
  • AIRFrame Technical Infrastructure and Visualization Software Evaluation

    We have analyzed over four thousand astrobiology articles from the scientific press, published over ten years to search for clues about their underlying connections. This information can be used to build tools and technologies that guide scientists quickly across vast, interdisciplinary libraries towards the diverse works of most relevance to them.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 1.2 2.1 2.2 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 4.1 4.2 4.3 5.1 5.2 5.3 6.1 6.2 7.1 7.2
  • Disks and the Origins of Planetary Systems

    This task is concerned with understanding the evolution of complex habitable environments as primitive planetary bodies are forming in a developing protoplanetary disk. The planet formation process begins with the collapse of large molecular clouds into flattened disks. This disk is in many ways an astrochemical “primeval soup” in which cosmically abundant elements are assembled into increasingly complex hydrocarbons and mixed in the dust and gas envelope within the disk. Gravitational attraction among the myriad small bodies leads to planet formation. If the newly formed planet is a suitable distance from its star to support liquid water at the surface, it is in the so called “habitable zone.” The formation process and identification of such life-supporting bodies is the goal of this project.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 1.2 2.1 4.3
  • Habitability of Icy Worlds

    Habitability of Icy Worlds investigates the habitability of liquid water environments in icy worlds, with a focus on what processes may give rise to life, what processes may sustain life, and what processes may deliver that life to the surface. Habitability of Icy Worlds investigation has three major objectives. Objective 1, Seafloor Processes, explores conditions that might be conducive to originating and supporting life in icy world interiors. Objective 2, Ocean Processes, investigates the formation of prebiotic cell membranes under simulated deep-ocean conditions, and Objective 3, Ice Shell Processes, investigates astrobiological aspects of ice shell evolution.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 2.1 2.2 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 4.1 5.1 5.3 6.1 6.2 7.1 7.2
  • Advancing Techniques for in Situ Analysis of Complex Organics

    Our research in laser mass spectrometry is part of the overall program of the Goddard Center for Astrobiology to investigate the origin and evolution of organics in planetary systems. Laser mass spectrometry is a technique that is used to determine the chemical composition of sample materials such as rocks, dust, ice, meteorites in the lab. It also may be miniaturized so it could fit on a robotic spacecraft to an asteroid, a comet, or even Mars. On such a mission it could be used to discover any organic compounds preserved there, which in turn would give us insight into how Earth got its starting inventory of organic compounds that were necessary for life. The technique uses a high-intensity laser to “zap” atoms and molecules directly off the surface of the sample. The mass spectrometer instantly captures these particles and provides data that allow us to determine their molecular weights, and therefore their chemical composition. Our recent work has been to understand the different kinds of spectra one obtains when analyzing complex samples that are analogs of Mars and other planetary bodies, such as desert-varnished basalts and extracts of the Murchison meteorite. We also have been improving the instrument to better detect certain kinds of organic compounds in such complex rocks, such as to selectively ionize certain hydrocarbons and simplify data analysis, and to maintain high vacuum integrity while changing out samples. Finally, our work on improving operational protocols for laser analysis of samples had helped the design of the mass spectrometer on the 2018 ExoMars rover mission, which includes a pulsed laser mode.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 2.2 7.1
  • Analogue Environment Deployments on the Big Island

    We are using the saddle region on the Big Island of Hawaii, in collaboration with NASA teams and the Canadian Space Agency in order to test technology related to sustainable living on the moon. My group will evaluate the utility of 3-D visualization in robotic navigation, in particular for the ex-ploration of lava tubes.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 2.1 4.1 4.3 6.1 6.2 7.1
  • Path to Flight

    Our technology investigation, Path to Flight for astrobiology, utilizes instrumentation built with non-NAI funding to carry out three science investigations namely habitability, survivability and detectability of life. The search for life requires instruments and techniques that can detect biosignatures from orbit and in-situ under harsh conditions. Advancing this capacity is the focus of our Technology Investigation.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 1.2 2.1 2.2 3.1 3.2 7.1 7.2
  • Mineralogical Traces of Early Habitable Environments

    The goal of our work is to discern the habitability (potential to support life) of ancient Martian environments, with an emphasis on understanding which environments could have supported more life than others. This information will help to guide the selection of sites on the Martian surface, for future missions designed to seek direct evidence of life. Our approach has two main parts: 1. We will use the presence of specific minerals or groups of minerals – an analysis that can be performed robotically on Mars — to constrain the chemical and physical conditions of the ancient environments in which they formed. 2. We will characterize the distribution of life on Earth in a series of environments spanning those same parameters, in order to inform the first portion of the investigation.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 5.3
  • Biosignatures in Extraterrestrial Settings

    The focus of this project is to explore indicators of life outside of Earth, both within the Solar System and on extrasolar planets. The work includes studies of the chemistry and composition of the Solar System, and the past history of conceivable sites for life in the Solar System. We also look for habitable planets outside the Solar System; work on developing new techniques to find and observe potentially habitable planets; and model the dynamics, evolution and current status of a variety of extrasolar planets.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 1.2 2.1 2.2 4.1 4.3 6.2 7.1 7.2
  • Project 5: Vistas of Early Mars: In Preparation for Sample Return

    To understand the history of life in the solar system requires knowledge of how hydrous minerals form on planetary surfaces, and the role these minerals play in the development of potential life forms. One hydrous mineral found on Earth and inferred from in situ measurements on Mars, is the mineral Jarosite, KFe3(SO4)2(OH)6. We are investigating whether radiometric ages, specifically 40Ar/39Ar ages on jarosite can be interpreted to accurately record climate change events on Mars. This project not only requires understanding the conditions required for jarosite formation and preservation on planetary surfaces, but also assessing under what conditions its “radiometric clock” can be reset (e.g., during changes in environmental conditions such as temperature). By studying jarosites formed by a variety of processes on Earth, we will be prepared to analyze and properly interpret ages measured from jarosite obtained from future Mars sample return missions.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 2.1 7.1
  • Cosmochemical Search for the Origin of Water in Planetary Bodies

    The ultimate goal of our study is to understand the origin of water in planetary bodies (asteroids, comets and terrestrial planets). In particular we want to understand better the water-based chemis-try that happens on these bodies. This gives important insights into the role(s) played by water dur-ing the origin of our Solar System. We are taking a new approach to understanding aqueous altera-tion processes in carbonaceous chondrites by investigating the distribution and composition of or-ganic compounds in aqueously altered chondrites. This research will also shed light on the nature of organic compounds in asteroids and in planetesimals that might have delivered organic compounds to the early Earth. This research will use a variety of micro-analytical techniques (optical microscopes, scanning electron microscope, electron microprobe, transmission electron microscope, ion microprobe, Raman spectroscopy) to investigate the aqueous alteration that has affected the CR chondrites. These meteorites were chosen because they exhibit a complete series of alteration, from very lightly altered to completely altered, and they have experience almost no thermal metamorphism.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 2.1 2.2 3.1 3.2
  • Postdoctoral Fellow Report: Mark Claire

    I have studied how biology might have impacted Earth’s early atmosphere, and how the Sun’s light has changed with time. More specifically, I’ve modeled how enhanced release of biogenic sulfur gases in earlier periods of Earth history may have left clues in the geologic record, and compared these predictions to the data. Furthermore, I have made a model of what how the light from the Sun would appear at any planet or any time in the solar system.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 1.2 2.1 4.1 7.2
  • Habitability of Water-Rich Environments, Task 1: Improve and Test Codes to Model Water-Rock Interactions

    The goal of this task is to develop computer codes to model the chemistry and mineralogy of water-rock interactions on present and early Earth, and on extraterrestrial bodies with liquid water (ancient Mars, icy moons, early asteroids, and extrasolar planets). This year we developed and tested codes to model temporal changes in aqueous chemistry and mineralogy during vertical percolation of fluids through layered rocky materials. In particular, we were able to model neutralization of acidic fluids along with percolation together with changes in mineralogy of altered basalts. The model results closely match many observations.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 2.2
  • Exploring the Atmosphere of Mars at Infrared Wavelengths and the Organic Volatile Composition of Comet 2P/Encke

    Yana L. Radeva is a Research Associate at The Catholic University of America, conducting her postdoctoral research at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. During the time period September 1, 2010 – August 30, 2011, she analyzed high-resolution infrared spectra of the Martian atmosphere, searching for biomarker gases (such as methane), and studying the spatial distribution, diurnal and seasonal evolution of trace species. Dr. Radeva analyzed data-sets acquired with the NIRSPEC instrument on the Keck II telescope during the 2009-2010 observing campaign, covering a range of Ls = 8 – 83° (early through late spring in the Martian Northern hemisphere). Dr. Radeva also analyzed data acquired with the ultra-high resolution infrared spectrometer CRIRES at ESO’s VLT, and retrieved abundances and rotational temperatures from the spectral lines of O2 (a1Δg), used as a tracer for ozone. She presented spatial maps of ozone on Mars, and a comparison with models of the ozone distribution, at the annual American Geophysical Union meeting (December 2010). Dr. Radeva published a paper on results of her dissertation work, entitled “A Newly Developed Fluorescence Model for C2H6 ν5 and Application to Cometary Spectra Acquired with NIRSPEC at Keck II” (ApJ, 729, 2, 135). She also presented results of her analysis of the organic composition of comet 2P/Encke at the annual AAS Division for Planetary Sciences conference (October 2010).

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 2.2 7.1
  • Stellar Radiative Effects on Planetary Habitability

    Habitable environments are most likely to exist in close proximity to a star, and hence a detailed and comprehensive understanding of the effect of the star on planetary habitability is crucial in the pursuit of an inhabited world. We looked at how the Sun’s brightness would have changed with time. We used models to study the effect of one very big flare on a planet with a carbon dioxide dominated atmosphere, like the early Earth’s, and found that these types of planets are well protected from the UV flux from the flaring star. We have also looked at the first quarter of Kepler data to study flare activity on “ordinary” cool stars, that have not been preselected for their tendency to have large flares. We find that these cool stars fall into two categories: stars that have long duration flares of several hours, but flare less frequently overall, and stars that have short duration flares, but more of them. In future work we will explore the comparative effect on a habitable planet of these two patterns of flaring activity.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 1.2 2.1 4.1 4.3 7.2
  • The Subglacial Biosphere – Insights Into Life-Sustaining Strategies in an Extraterrestrial Analog Environment

    Sub-ice environments are prevalant on Earth today and are likely to have been more prevalent the Earth’s past during episodes of significant glacial advances (e.g., snow-ball Earth). Numerous metabolic strategies have been hypothesized to sustain life in sub-ice environments. Common among these hypotheses is that they are all independent of photosynthesis, and instead rely on chemical energy. Recently, we demonstrated the presence of an active assemblage of methanogens in the subglacial environment of an Alpine glacier (Boyd et al., 2010). The distribution of methanogens is narrowly constrained, due in part to the energetics of the reactions which support this functional class of organism (namely carbon dioxide reduction with hydrogen and acetate fermentation). Methanogens utilize a number of metalloenzymes that have active site clusters comprised of a unique array of metals. During the course of this study, we identified other features that were suggestive of other active and potentially relevant metabolic strategies in the subglacial environment, such as nitrogen cycling. The goals of this project are 1) identifying a suite of biomarkers indicative of biological CH4 production 2). quantifying the flux of CH4 from sub-ice systems and 3). developing an understanding how life thrives at the thermodynamic limits of life. This project represents a unique extension of the ABRC and bridges the research goals of several nodes, namely the JPL-Icy Worlds team and the ASU-Follow the Elements team.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 2.2 5.1 5.2 5.3 6.1 6.2 7.1 7.2
  • Habitability of Water-Rich Environments, Task 4: Evaluate the Habitability of Ancient Aqueous Solutions on Mars

    Field, laboratory, and numerical modeling studies have been performed to understand the chemical processes and mineralogy relevant to low- and high-temperature aqueous alteration processes on ancient Mars. Results show that significant amounts of aqueous solutions could have been involved in the formation of secondary minerals (silica, clays) observed on Mars, with important implications for its past habitability.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1
  • Super-Earth Atmospheres

    In this task we use computer models to study aspects of the atmospheres of extrasolar super-Earths, planets that orbit other stars that are 2-10 times more massive than the Earth. Significant progress was made this year on two models, one that calculates how the atmosphere of the super-Earth is affected by radiative and particles coming from its parent star and one that calculates the surface temperature and change in atmospheric temperature with altitude for superEarth atmospheres.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 2.1 3.1
  • Mars Bulk Composition and Aqueous Alteration

    The composition of Mars, including its total inventory of water, is central to understanding how Mars and the other inner planets formed. Comparison between the abundances of water and volatile elements in Mars, Earth, and Moon are particularly important to understand the source of water to the Earth. We study Martian meteorites, to develop criteria for distinguishing terrestrial from Martian weathering, as a step towards defining the compositions of water solutions on Mars. Our initial results indicate that the martian interior has D/H similar to terrestrial mean ocean water, suggesting similar sources of water to both planets.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 2.1
  • Permafrost in Hawaii

    We investigate microclimates on the Hawaiian Islands that serve as possible analogues to Mars. The summit of Mauna Kea is exceptionally dry, but sporadic permafrost exists in cinder cones near the summit. Additionally, ice caves are known to exist on the flanks of Mauna Loa. They are the world’s most isolated ice caves. Theoretical models have been developed for microclimatic effects in craters and caves. Preparations for upcoming fieldwork have been made and interdisciplinary collabora-tions have been developed.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 5.3 6.2
  • Understanding the Early Mars Environment

    By analyzing data from rovers and orbiters, we construct theoretical models to constrain the habitability of current and past Martian environments. VPL has re-analyzed data and called into question the existence of methane and ancient oceans on Mars. In additional, we have contributed to past and future NASA missions such as Phoenix lander and the Curiosity rover,

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 2.1
  • Remote Sensing of Organic Volatiles in Planetary and Cometary Atmospheres

    We developed state-of-the-art spectroscopic methods to analyze our extensive infrared database of Mars and cometary spectra. In the last two years, we acquired the deepest and most comprehensive search for biomarkers on Mars using powerful infrared high-resolution spectrometers (CRIRES, NIRSPEC, CSHELL) at high-altitude observatories (VLT, Keck-II, NASA-IRTF respectively). In order to analyze this unprecedented wealth of data, we developed highly automated and advanced processing techniques that correct for bad-pixels/cosmic-rays and perform spatial and spectral straightening of anarmophic optics data with milli-pixel precision. We also constructed line-by-line models of the ν7 band of ethane (C2H6), the ν3 and ν2 bands of methanol (CH3OH), we compiled spectral information for H2O and HDO using 5 databases (BT2, VTT, HITEMP, HITRAN and GEISA), and compiled spectral information NH3 using 4 databases (BYT2, TROVE, HITRAN and GEISA). These great advancements have allowed us to understand the infrared spectrum of planetary bodies with unprecedented precision.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 1.2 2.1 2.2 4.1 7.1 7.2
  • Research Activities in Planetary Environments Lab

    A new instrument called VAPoR (Volatile Analysis by Pyrolysis of Regolith) was developed to demonstrate an end-to-end pyrolysis time of flight mass spectrometer system with sufficient mass resolution, mass range, sensitivity, precision, and dynamic range to be applied to astrobiology missions. The mass spectrometer derived from this development can be used as an in situ detector of water, noble gases, oxygen, and other potential biomarkers such as organic molecules that are signatures of extinct or extant life and isotopic composition of elements such as C, H, and S that are fractionated by biological processes. A small lightweight mass spectrometer such as VAPoR will conserve precious mass, power, and volume resources in future missions to polar regions of the Moon, asteroids, comets, Mars, Europa, Enceladus, or Titan. The VAPoR instrument was tested most recently during the 2011vDesert Research and Technology Studies (DRATS) field campaign where detailed in situ bulk chemical characterization of volatiles released from regolith samples was carried out.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 2.2 7.1
  • Research Activities in the Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory

    The Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory is a laboratory dedicated to the study of organic compounds derived from Stardust and future sample return missions, meteorites, lab simulations of Mars, interstellar, proto-planetary, and cometary ices and grains, and instrument development. This year, we conclusively demonstrated the presence of indigenous nucleobases and purines in carbonaceous chondrites, resolving a 50-year-old debate. We continued analyses of meteoritic amino acids, which led to both the first detection of these compounds in thermally altered meteorites and a more detailed understanding of their presence in aqueously altered meteorites. We collaborated with researchers at various institutions to bring our analytical expertise to the study of precious and unique samples. We look forward to our increased participation in the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 3.1 7.1
  • Project 6A: Astrobiology and Habitability Studies Supporting Mars Research and Missions

    Field research at Mars analogs sites such as desert environments can provide important constraints for instrument calibration and landing site strategies of robotic exploration missions to Mars that will investigate habitability and life beyond Earth during this decade. We report on astrobiology field research from the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in Utah Hanksville conducted during the EuroGeoMars 2009 campaign. EuroGeoMars 2009 was an example of a Moon-Mars field research campaign dedicated to the demonstration of astrobiology instruments and a specific methodology of comprehensive measurements from selected sampling sites. Special emphasis was given to sample collection and pre-screening using in-situ portable instruments. We have investigated 10 selected samples from different geological formations including Mancos Shale, Morrison, and Dakota Formation as well as a variety of locations (surface, subsurface and cliffs) partly in-situ in the habitat or in a post-analysis cycle. We compiled the individual studies and tried to establish correlations among environmental parameters, minerals, organic markers and biota. The results are interpreted in the context of future missions that target the identification of organic molecules and biomarkers on Mars.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 5.1
  • Water in Planetary Interiors

    We have synthesized samples of high pressure mineral phases that are likely hosts for H, and thus water, in planetary interiors, and measured physical properties including crystal structure, density, elasticity, and electrical conductivity to see if there is evidence of deep hydration in the Earth.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 2.1 3.1 3.2
  • Project 6B: Detection of Biosignatures in Extreme Environments and Analogs for Mars

    We have continued to investigate the Río Tinto area an acid river in Spain analogous to the environment of early Mars. We are now using a sophisticated technique that analyses the three stable isotopes of oxygen and their relationship to each other with surprising results. Isotopic fractionation processes, change the relative proportions of the oxygen of masses 17 and 18 relative to 16 to an extent generally proportional to their mass difference, an approximately 2:1 effect for O-18 and O-17, respectively, shown by the slope of the line. Most terrestrial materials exhibit this same relationship perfectly, but oxygen in sulfate from waters and minerals in the Río Tinto area, produced by either microbial or inorganic processes, deviate from that: there is also the suggestion in preliminary data that these two processes can be differentiated from each other too. The measure of this relationship would provide a biosignature, independent of an measured oxygen isotope value of subsequent fractionation process.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 7.1
  • Project 7A: A New Way for Exploring Mars for Environmental History and Biosignatures

    Mobile exploration of Mars so far has been achieved by the use of rovers, powered by solar panels or in the near future, radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs). The JPL team has been contributing to an effort to develop an alternative source of locomotion, wind power. A Tumbleweed rover is a large (maybe as big as 20 ft diameter), inflatable structure, equipped with suitable instruments and would be able to make long-range surveys of large areas of Mars. A rover would carry a suite of science instruments for surface and near-surface interrogation and be released to roam for the duration of a season or longer. Although direction will be at the mercy of the wind, location will be tracked precisely and randomized surveys of a large area are equivalent to conventional coordinate grid sampling.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 7.1
  • Project 7B: Development of a Laser Ablation, Electron-Impact Miniature Mass Spectrometer (LA-EI-MMS) for in Situ Chemical and Isotopic Composition and Age Determinations of Martian Rocks

    A prototype of laser ablation-miniature mass spectrometer (LA-MMS) instrument for geochemical and age dating of rocks on the surface of extraterrestrial bodies is being developed in this project. In the LA-MMS method the rock sample is ablated by a laser and the neutral species produced are analyzed using the JPL-invented MMS. The neutral atoms ablated by a pulsed laser from the rock are ionized by electron impaction; the resulting ions of different masses are then spatially dispersed along the focal plane of the magnetic sector of the miniature mass spectrometer (MMS) and measured in parallel by a modified CCD array detector capable of detecting ions directly. Chemical analysis and high precision isotope ratios of elements have been measured in various rock samples by LA-MMS. Work on the measurement of absolute age of these rock samples based on K-Ar radiogenic technique is in progress.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 7.2