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Multi-Step Pyrolysis of a Meteorite Using a Pyroprobe with GC/MS

In the search for extraterrestrial life, finding organic molecules has been a topic of special interest. NASA’s Curiosity rover equipped with the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Suite Investigation in the MSL Analytical Laboratory is designed to address this interest. The main analytical chemistry hurdle that SAM resolved is using pyrolysis to 1: thermally extract organic matter with low molecular weight from a piece of inorganic matter sample, which is usually insolu ble into common solvents; 2: thermally break carbon bond in organic matter with high molecular weight; and 3: send to GC/MS for identification. As the inventor of the first commercial pyrolyzer for a GC/MS system, CDS Analytical contributed to the development of SAM in the Curiosity rover (1), which was launched on November 26, 2011 and landed on Mars on August 5, 2012.

This application note demonstrates the operation of SAM by thermally extracting 15 mg of powdered meteorite in a multi-step sequence of 120°C, 200°C, 280°C, followed by a flash pyrolysis at 610°C to evaluate its organic matter content.

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