Monday, December 9, 2013

The world of Martian rocks: a cutting-edge system to materials characterization.

Launched in 2012 by NASA the Curiosity robot has revealed a lot of secrets from the red planet only studying Mars rocks and soil geology. What is the mechanism that allows human robots perform the Mars remote sensing of small rocks in a research to seek water, life and the own Mars's history?

The human robot is a real high-technology interplanetary laboratory. It is the state-of-the-art of a magnificent engineering achievement. It is equipped with a high-power Laser in an ingenious multipurpose device named by project’s scientists as ChemCam (Chemical Camera). The high-power Laser emits a short pulse with a big power which is focused on the surface of some rocks samples. The high energy density on the surface rock or in a sample of sand may induce supersonic plasma emission: so then, this light is collected by a spectrometer and with this information, scientists can identify the spectroscopic lines of the chemical elements in the rocks! Scientific literature refers to this technique as Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS).

Fig. 1: ChemCam Artist's Conception by NASA.

The Curiosity robot has many devices developed in several countries including Russia, Netherlands, Germany and United States. Since 2012 a lot of discovers were reported with ChemCam and another devices. For example the first ionizing radiation measures in the red planet, a dry riverbed in a Martian crater and the first drilling in a Mars's rock in seek of water.

The amazing discover was, no doubt, performed by the ChemCam and its high-power remote sensing instrumentation. The robot reports that Mars sands are enriched with nutrients essential to life occurrence like Oxigen, Sulfur, Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Carbon. It also reports clay in Mars that indicates there were long periods of aqueous soil in the red planet. The great question is: Would be Mars an environment able to hold life? Better than this: Was Mars a planet with an ancient civilization?

Matheus Tunes, 23, is Graduate Student Candidate at Polytechnic School of the University of São Paulo  
Scientific Website

Fig. 2: A typical LIBS spectrum. In this case, we generate plasma in a deionized water sample. Tunes, MA; Schön, CG et al. INAC 2013 Proceedings, ENAN X121 E06, p. 1-6 (2013) ABEN-RJ.

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