Written by Bill Steigerwald
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
<img data-attachment-id = "85503" datenpermalink = "http://www.clarksvilleonline.com/201
NASA – Logo – National Aerospace Authority
"data-medium-file =" http://www.clarksvilleonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/NASA.jpg "data-large-file =" http://www.clarksvilleonline.com/wp -content / uploads / 2011/08 / NASA.jpg "class =" alignleft size-full wp-image-85503 "title =" NASA – National Aerospace Authority "src =" http://www.clarksvilleonline.com/ wp-content / uploads / 2011/08 / NASA.jpg "alt =" NASA – National Aerospace Authority "width =" 200 "height =" 165 "/> Greenbelt, MD – An international team Scientists have created a tiny chemistry lab for a rover that will drill beneath the Martian surface for signs of past or present life.
The toaster oven format laboratory, called the Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer or MOMA, is a key instrument on the ExoMars Rover, a joint mission of the European Space Agency and the Russian Space Agency Roskosmos, with a significant contribution to the MO MA from NASA, which will be launched on the Red Planet in July 2020.
"The two-meter-deep drill of the ExoMars Rover will provide MOMA with unique specimens that can handle complex o "It may have contained compounds from an ancient time when life on Mars could have started," said MOMA project scientist Will Brinckerhoff of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Although the surface of Mars today is inaccessible to known life forms, there is evidence that the Martian climate in the past has allowed humans the presence of liquid water – an integral part of life – on the surface
This evidence include features that resemble dry river beds and mineral deposits that form only in the presence of liquid water. NASA has sent rovers to Mars that have found additional signs of past habitable environments, such as Opportunity and Curiosity's Rovers, both of which are exploring the Martian terrain.
The MOMA instrument will be able to detect a variety of organic molecules. Organic compounds are often associated with life, although they can also be produced by non-biological processes. Organic molecules contain carbon and hydrogen and may contain oxygen, nitrogen and other elements.
To find these molecules on Mars, the MOMA team had to take instruments that would normally occupy a few work tables in a chemistry lab and shrink them to about the size of a toaster oven, so that they could practically be installed on a rover ,
While the instrument is complex, MOMA is built around a single, very small mass spectrometer that separates charged atoms and molecules into mass. The basic process of finding organic matter from Mars can be boiled down to two steps: separating organic molecules from the Martian rocks and sediments and giving them an electric charge (ionized) to be detected and identified by the mass spectrometer.
MOMA has two methods to distinguish as many different types of organic molecules as possible. The first method uses a furnace to heat a sample – this baking process vaporizes the organic molecules and sends them to a thin column that separates mixtures of compounds into their individual constituents. The compounds successively enter the mass spectrometer where they receive an electrical charge and are sorted by mass using electric fields.
Each type of molecule has a set of different mass-to-charge ratios. The mass spectrometer instrument uses this pattern, called the mass spectrum, to identify the molecules.
Some larger organic molecules are fragile and would be broken in the furnace during high-temperature evaporation, so MOMA has a second method of finding them: it uses a laser to crush the sample. Since only a short burst of laser light is used, it vaporizes some species of larger organic molecules without completely destroying them.
The laser also gives these molecules an electrical charge so they can be sorted and identified directly from the sample to the mass spectrometer.
Certain organic molecules have a property that could possibly be used as a strong indication of their origin in life: their handedness or chirality. Some organic molecules used by life come in two variants that are mirror images of each other, like your hands.
On Earth, life uses all left-handed amino acids and all right-handed sugars to make larger molecules needed for life. like proteins from amino acids and DNA from sugars. Life based on right-handed amino acids (and sugar left-handers) might work, but a mix of right-handed and left-leaners for both is not. This is because these molecules must come together with the correct orientation, like puzzle pieces, to form other molecules necessary for the functioning of life.
MOMA is able to detect the chirality of organic molecules. If it finds an organic molecule primarily of the left or right variety (called "homochirality"), this may be evidence that life produced the molecules, since non-biological processes tend to produce an equal mix of varieties form. This is called biosignature.
Mars rovers face another challenge in their quest for life proofing: contamination. The earth is saturated with life, and scientists have to be very careful that the organic material they discover is not simply carried by the earth. To ensure this, the MOMA team has taken great care to ensure that the instrument is as free as possible from terrestrial molecules that are life's signatures.
The ExoMars rover will be the first to explore deep below the surface, drills capable of sampling up to two meters deep. This is important because the thin atmosphere and mottled magnetic field of Mars provide inadequate protection against space radiation, which can gradually destroy organic molecules that are exposed on the surface.
Marssediment, however, is an effective protective shield, and the team expects greater abundance of organic molecules in samples from below the surface.
NASA Goddard develops the mass spectrometers and electronics boxes for MOMA, while LATMOS (Laboratory for Atmospheres, Environments and Space Observations), Guyancourt, France and Laboratoire Interuniversitaire des Systèmes Atmosphériques (LISA or Interuniversity Laboratory for Atmospheric Systems) Paris, France, manufacturer of the MOMA Gas Chromatographs, and the Max Plank Institute for Solar System Research, Göttingen, Germany and the Laser Center Hannover, Hannover, Germany, are building the laser, furnace and tapping (furnace sealing) station.
MOMA recently completed Both ESA and NASA provided preliminary reviews, paving the way for the delivery of the instrument to the mission. On Wednesday, May 16, the MOMA mass spectrometer team gathered in Goddard to see their unique scientific instrument on the first leg of their journey to Mars: delivery to Thales Alenia Space in Turin, Italy, where it was in This summer, during the upcoming mission-level activities, it will be integrated into the rover's analytical laboratory drawer.
After further high-level integration activities at rover and spacecraft level in 2019, the ExoMars Rover is scheduled to launch on Mars in July 2020 the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan
Bill Steigerwald, carbon , Greenbelt MD, Hydrogen, Life, Mars, NASA, NASA's ExoMars Rover, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA's Mars Organic, NASA's MOMA, National Aerospace Authority, Nitrogen, Oxygen