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Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry Performed on Mars

The Franklin rover, named after the DNA double-helix co-discoverer Rosalind Franklin, utilises pyrolysis gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) with the aim to identify organic molecules in Martian sub-surface materials. The rover’s mission was to search for life on Mars after landing near the planet’s equator, on a plain of 3-billion-year-old clay which is believed to be the remains of an ancient river delta. However, pyrolysis may thermally damage and convert organic matter depending on the temperature and the nature of the molecules, which would change the original molecular signatures.

The sample analysis at the Mars instrument suite takes up more than half of the science payload onboard the Mars Science Laboratory Rover and to facilitate its mission, the Franklin rover will be carrying 26kg of scientific equipment, including four gas chromatography-mass spectrometry columns and a Raman spectrometer. Featuring chemical equipment found within several scientific laboratories on Earth. Supplied by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, it explores for compounds of the element carbon, including methane, which are related with life and investigates ways in which they are produced and demolished in the Martian ecosphere.

A suite of three instruments, including a Mass Spectrometer, Gas Chromatograph, and Tunable laser spectrometer this rover also scans and measures for the profusions of other light elements which are correlated with life, such as hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen.

The Franklin rover the first ever rover to examine samples from beneath the surface of Mars. A two-metre-long drill was used to gather samples from beneath the surface which were analysed by the rovers custom Mars Organic Molecule Analyser (MOMA). Using GC and Mass Spec, MOMA blends a tiny gas chromatograph and mass spectrometer with an oven and laser. It appears that the question of life on Mars could be resolved in a matter of years thanks to gas chromatography mass spectrometry.


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