Ancient Organics Discovered on Mars - Broadcast Graphics
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Curiosity has discovered ancient organic molecules in Gale Crater using its SAM instrument.
Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Curiosity has detected seasonal changes in methane at Gale Crater using its SAM instrument.
SAM detected the organosulfur compound thiophene by analyzing its mass spectrum.
The small hydrocarbons discovered on Mars are thought to be part of larger macromolecules.
Intake valves on the side of Curiosity allow SAM to ingest Martian air for analysis.
Curiosity detected atmospheric methane with SAM's Tunable Laser Spectrometer (TLS).
A panorama around Gale Crater, the Curiosity rover's location on Mars.
Curiosity moves its arm to drill a sample of a Martian rock.
A panorama of Gale Crater, taken by the Curiosity rover on Mars.
This animation shows the SAM instrument in action.
Present-day Gale Crater, with Curiosity's landing site indicated.
Gale Crater was the site of a lake on ancient Mars.
The Sample Analysis at Mars instrument (SAM) was built at Goddard Space Flight Center.
Technicians integrate SAM into the Curiosity rover.
SAM detected ancient hydrocarbons in the "Mojave 2" target rock.
NASA's Mars 2020 rover and ESA's ExoMars rover will usher in a new era of exploration.
Beauty shot of Mars rotating.
Slate with NASA's Mars Exploration Program website and social media information.
For More Information
Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
- Brian Monroe (USRA)
- Josh Masters (Freelance)
- Lisa Poje (Freelance)
- Walt Feimer (KBRwyle)
- Dan Gallagher (KBRwyle)
- Ashwin Vasavada (NASA/JPL CalTech)
- Chris Webster (JPL)
- Jennifer Eigenbrode (NASA/GSFC)
- Paul Mahaffy (NASA/GSFC)
- Rich Melnick (KBRwyle)
- Aries Keck (ADNET)
- Dan Gallagher (KBRwyle)
- Pat Kennedy (KBRwyle)
- Aaron E. Lepsch (ADNET)
MissionsThis visualization is related to the following missions:
Searching for Signs of Life on Mars
May 24th, 2018Read more
The European Space Agency's Rosalind Franklin rover will search for signs of life on Mars, using a NASA-built instrument called MOMA. Complete transcript available.Watch this video on the NASA Goddard YouTube channel.Music provided by Killer Tracks: "Fast Motion" by Stephen Daniel Lemaire, "Game Show Spheres 5-6" by Anselm Kreuzer, "Floating" by Ben Niblett & Jon Cotton A model of the MOMA mass spectrometer, with the Rosalind Franklin rover in the background. One of the biggest questions in planetary science is whether life ever arose on Mars, and NASA and the European Space Agency are sending a cutting-edge instrument to the red planet to find out. The Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer, or MOMA, is a sophisticated suite of technologies that squeezes a lab full of chemistry equipment into a package the size of a toaster. MOMA will travel to Mars aboard ESA's Rosalind Franklin rover (formerly ExoMars), where it will search for evidence of past or present life.MOMA will not only search for organic molecules, which make up all life on Earth, it will also analyze their structure using its linear ion trap – the first use of this technology on Mars. Doing so will help scientists to determine whether the molecules could be of biological origin, a significant leap forward in the search for life beyond Earth.MOMA's mass spectrometer subsystem and main electronics were built at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The pulsed UV laser and high-temperature ovens were developed in Germany, and the gas chromatograph in France. The Rosalind Franklin rover is a component of ExoMars, the primary Mars exploration program of the European Space Agency. Learn more at nasa.gov or download animations of MOMA. For More InformationSee [NASA.gov](https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2018/moma) Related pages
Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer: Animations
May 24th, 2018Read more
MOMA uses ultraviolet laser pulses to release and ionize organic compounds captured within crushed Martian surface and near-surface materials. Because each laser pulse lasts less than two billionths of a second, this process effectively ionizes more heat-resistant materials than those accessed by traditional oven-heating (pyrolysis) methods. Pulsed laser processing preserves weak molecular bonds, and enables the identification of organic compounds even in the presence of highly reactive perchlorates commonly found in Martian surface materials. The MOMA pyrolysis ovens vaporize crushed Martian samples through ramp heating. The vapor is then separated into different molecular species by running the gas through specially-coated tubes (gas chromatography columns) before being passed into the linear ion trap (LIT) mass spectrometer. Immediately before entering the LIT, the molecules flowing through the gas chromatograph pass through an electron ionization source. This gives the molecules an electric charge, enabling the LIT to filter them. The electron ionization source gives analyte molecules an electric charge, allowing them to be sent to the linear ion trap for analysis. MOMA's linear ion trap is a first for the red planet, and will allow the Rosalind Franklin rover to study organic molecules in unprecedented detail. MOMA's mass spectrometer employs a linear ion trap design, the first application of this technology in space. Using what are termed SWIFT techniques, MOMA can eject unwanted molecular species and enrich signals from molecules of interest. SWIFT stands for Stored Waveform Inverse Fourier Transform. Through tandem mass spectrometry, or MS/MS, the MOMA instrument can intentionally break apart primary molecules and analyze their secondary fragments. Benzoic acid is a ring (aromatic) hydrocarbon comprised of benzene and a carboxyl group. MOMA identifies molecules by determining their mass spectrum, depicted at right. Oleic acid is a chain (aliphatic) hydrocarbon, and one of the fatty acid molecules that makes up cell membranes on Earth. The mass spectrum for Oleic acid is depicted at right. The properties of an organic molecule depend not just on its molecular formula, but also on its structure. Isobaric compounds have different formulas and structures, but the same mass-to-charge ratio (M/Z), making them difficult to tell apart. Technologies on MOMA allow it to distinguish between such compounds. Lipids (fats) are long chains of carbon and hydrogen that make up cell membranes on Earth. MOMA will be the first instrument on Mars capable of detecting lipids, a leap forward in the search for life. One of the biggest questions in planetary science is whether life ever arose on Mars, and NASA and the European Space Agency are sending a cutting-edge instrument to the red planet to find out. The Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer, or MOMA, will be the most sophisticated mass spectrometer ever sent beyond Earth, squeezing a lab full of chemistry equipment into a package the size of a toaster. MOMA will ride to Mars aboard the European Space Agency's Rosalind Franklin rover (formerly ExoMars), and search for signs of past or even present life. How does MOMA work? Like its predecessor instrument suite on the Curiosity rover (SAM), the MOMA investigation can: vaporize crushed Martian materials in a high-temperature oven; send the evolved volatiles through a gas chromatograph; and ionize and analyze the gases that evolve from the sample via electron ionization mass spectrometry. Unlike previous instruments, however, MOMA offers a complementary second mode of operation, laser desorption mass spectrometry, whereby pulsed ultraviolet light desorbs and ionizes organics in a single step lasting less than two nanoseconds. This mode of operation accesses a new realm of organics detection and preserves weak chemical bonds that are important for molecular identification. In order to separate and detect different organic compounds within the same sample, MOMA employs a linear ion trap (LIT). The high-pressure operation of the LIT also enables laser processing at Mars ambient pressures. MOMA marks the first use of a linear ion trap in space, and the first ion trap (linear or 3D type) on another planet. By drawing on a suite of advanced technologies, MOMA will hunt for direct evidence of past or present life on Mars, taking a giant leap forward in the search for life beyond Earth. The mass spectrometer subsystem of the MOMA instrument and the main electronics were built at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland for the ExoMars Programme. The pulsed UV laser and high-temperature ovens are being developed in Germany, and the gas chromatograph in France. ExoMars is the primary Mars exploration program of the European Space Agency.Learn more about MOMA and the Rosalind Franklin rover, or watch the narrated video.The animations on this page are available for download in broadcast resolution and in their original frames. For More InformationSee [NASA.gov](https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2018/moma) Related pages
Need To Know: Sample Analysis at Mars Findings
Dec. 16th, 2014Read more
NASA scientist Danny Glavin discusses the most recent findings by the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument suite (SAM). This includes variations in methane levels in the atmosphere and the first definitive detection of organic molecules on the Red Planet.For complete transcript, click here. There’s big news coming out of the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument suite (SAM) on NASA’s Curiosity rover. For the first time, organic matter has definitively been detected on Mars. In addition to finding organic compounds in rocks, SAM has also detected sharp increases and decreases in methane levels in the atmosphere. MSL participating scientist, Danny Glavin, explains these findings and what they tell us about our search for life on the Red Planet. Related pages
Possible Methane Sources and Sinks on Mars
Dec. 16th, 2014Read more
There are several possible ways that methane can be created, stored, and released on Mars, including both biological and non-biological pathways. Graphic with main title only Graphic without text This illustration portrays possible ways that methane might be added to Mars' atmosphere (sources) and removed from the atmosphere (sinks). NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has detected fluctuations in methane concentration in the atmosphere, implying both types of activity occur in the modern environment of Mars.A molecule of methane consists of one atom of carbon and four atoms of hydrogen. Methane can be generated by microbes and can also be generated by processes that do not require life, such as reactions between water and olivine (or pyroxene) rock. Ultraviolet radiation (UV) can induce reactions that generate methane from other organic chemicals produced by either biological or non-biological processes, such as comet dust falling on Mars. Methane generated underground in the distant or recent past might be stored within lattice-structured methane hydrates called clathrates, and released by the clathrates at a later time, so that methane being released to the atmosphere today might have formed in the past.Winds on Mars can quickly distribute methane coming from any individual source, reducing localized concentration of methane. Methane can be removed from the atmosphere by sunlight-induced reactions (photochemistry). These reactions can oxidize the methane, through intermediary chemicals such as formaldehyde and methanol, into carbon dioxide, the predominant ingredient in Mars' atmosphere.Learn more about the detection of methane on Mars. For More InformationSee [NASA.gov](https://www.nasa.gov/press/2014/december/nasa-rover-finds-active-ancient-organic-chemistry-on-mars) Related pages
Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Overview
June 29th, 2012Read more
This video gives a short overview of the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite of instruments inside the Curiosity Rover. Related pages
Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM): Broadcast-Quality B-roll
June 29th, 2012Read more
Below are broadcast-quality b-roll clips of integration, testing, and fabrication of instruments on board the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite of instruments. Related pages
Methane Plume on Mars
Jan. 14th, 2009Read more
Visualization of a methane plume found in Mars' atmosphere during the northern summer season. Color bar The first definitive detection of methane in the atmosphere of Mars indicates the planet is alive in the sense that it still has geologic activity powered by heat from its interior, according to a team of NASA and university scientists. The team used spectrometer instruments attached to several telescopes to detect plumes of methane that were emitted from specific sites during the warmer seasons - spring and summer. Though nothing conclusive can yet be determined, it is possible that the detected methane was either produced by geologic processes such as the oxidation of iron (serpentinization) or by microscopic Martian life below the planet's surface. The methane released today could be produced currently, or it could be ancient methane trapped in ice 'cages' called clathrates or as gas below a sub-surface ice layer. For More InformationSee [http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mars/news/marsmethane.html](http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mars/news/marsmethane.html) Related pages
The Mystery of Martian Methane
Jan. 14th, 2009Read more
Mike Mumma and his team of researchers at Goddard Space Flight Center have made the first definitive observations of methane in the atmosphere of Mars. The evidence of methane plumes only during certain seasons and the chemical processes that could lead to its possible sources both raise intriguing questions for future study.For complete transcript, click here. For More InformationSee [http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mars/news/marsmethane.html](http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mars/news/marsmethane.html) Related pages
Ancient Organics Discovered on Mars
June 7th, 2018Read more
The Curiosity rover has discovered ancient organic molecules on Mars, embedded within sedimentary rocks that are billions of years old. Complete transcript available.Watch this video on the NASA Goddard YouTube channel.Music provided by Killer Tracks: "Crystalline" by Enrico Cacace & Manuel Bandettini, "Based On True Events" by Eric Chevalier, "Mirrored Cubes" by Laurent Dury, "Lost In The Sky" by Matthews Samar Interview sound bites with research scientist and astrobiologist Dr. Jennifer Eigenbrode. Curiosity poses for a self-portrait, along with one of the organic molecules that it discovered. On the ground next to the rover are two small drill holes marking the site of the discovery, in a sedimentary rock named "Mojave 2." Curiosity's SAM instrument discovered thiophene (an organic molecule containing sulfur), shown here with its mass spectrum. The small hydrocarbons that SAM detected are believed to be coming from larger macromolecules, similar to kerogens on Earth. Since arriving at Mars in 2012, NASA's Curiosity rover has drilled into rocks in search of organics – molecules containing carbon. Organics are the building blocks of all life on Earth, though they can also come from non-living sources. The surface of Mars readily destroys these molecules, making them difficult to detect. Now, Curiosity has discovered ancient organics that have been preserved in rocks for billions of years. This finding helps scientists better understand the habitability of early Mars, and it paves the way for future missions to the Red Planet.Learn more about this discovery, or visit NASA's Mars Exploration Program. For an in-depth explanation of the results, watch the NASA-TV broadcast featuring members of the Curiosity science team. For More InformationSee [NASA.gov](https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-finds-ancient-organic-material-mysterious-methane-on-mars) Related pages