Getting the measure of Mars

The research of Dr Ian Hutchinson from the Department of Physics and Astronomy has been mentioned in an article for Chemistry World which explores the potential hospitability of Mars.

The article covers how in 2002, Nasa’s Mars Odyssey orbiter found large subsurface water ice deposits, supporting the idea that the red planet once had lots of liquid water near the surface. This finding suggested that life may once have existed there, which was made more plausible when, in 2003 and 2004, a series of orbiters and Earth-bound telescopes reported plentiful methane on Mars. The Curiosity Rover has since discovered more factors which suggest that the planet could have once sustained life.

The ExoMars mission, which will launch in 2018, is also discussed, and how it will be the first to send an instrument exploiting Raman spectroscopy to a planetary surface for remote analysis. Dr Hutchinson is heading the UK team behind the detector and electronics for the Raman laser spectrometer (RLS).

The tool will figure prominently in ExoMars’s efforts to protect against the oxidising surface environment. Non-destructive and suiting both organic and inorganic analysis, RLS will be the ‘first pass molecular interrogation technique’ for the material retrieved, before it passes to other ExoMars instruments.

The article suggests that Nasa’s next rover mission, Mars 2020, will also feature a Raman instrument, named Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals, or Sherloc. Sherloc is intended to analyse surface minerals and potential biogeological samples, specifically targeting carbon ring compounds.

If successful, these instruments will bring humanity nearer to answering the question that’s long fascinated us – just how unique is life on Earth?

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