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Techniques & Tools Spectroscopy, Technology

Life As We Don’t Know It

The Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC) instrument will be mounted on the robotic arm of the Mars 2020 rover. SHERLOC enables non-contact, spatially resolved, and highly sensitivity detection and characterization of organics and minerals on the Martian surface and near subsurface, with four main goals:

  1. To assess the habitability potential of a sample and its aqueous history
  2. To detect the availability of key elements and energy sources for life (for example, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and many others)
  3. To determine if there are potential biosignatures preserved in Martian rocks and outcrops
  4. To provide organic and mineral analysis for selective sample caching.

SHERLOC is a resonance Raman and fluorescence spectrometer with a 248.6-nm deep UV laser. Deep UV-induced native fluorescence is very sensitive to condensed carbon and aromatic organics, enabling detection at or below 1 ppm at 100 µm spatial scales, while deep UV resonance Raman enables detection and classification of aromatic and aliphatic organics with sensitivities of 0.01 to 1 percent at 100 µm spatial scales. In addition to organics, the deep UV Raman enables detection and classification of minerals relevant to aqueous chemistry with grain sizes on the order of 20 µm. SHERLOC will be able to map the distribution of organic material against the visible features and minerals that are identifiable with the Raman spectrometer.

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About the Author

Luther Beegle

Principal Investigator, SHERLOC, and Deputy Division Manager Science, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA.

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