Searching for Signs of Life on Mars
The Role of Spectroscopy



Photo 1: The horizon of Mars, part of the first color image from the rover Spirit. (NASA/JPL)


       NASA has channeled a large portion of the agency's resources into the unmanned exploration of the planets, moons and asteroids in our solar system.  The recent successful Mars Rovers have relayed to Earth a substantial amount of information about the Martian environment.   One of the most prominent goals to date was to determine if water was, or is currently present on the Martian surface or in its atmosphere.  Scientists at NASA have developed  a strategic plan through the next decade for the continued exploration of our neighbor in space.  Future missions will have the goals of the continued determination of the chemical composition of the surface. Additionally, robotic explorers will be designed to search for evidence of life forms that may have inhabited Mars in the past or life forms that may even be inhabiting Mars in the present.  (1)
       Recent discoveries of life forms existing under the harshest conditions on Earth (undersea volcanic heat vents, Arctic ice) have bolstered scientists hopes that similar life forms could persist under the harsh conditions of the Martian environment.  It is hypothesized that hearty organisms such as cyanobacteria may be present on the Martian surface.   Compounds such as chlorophyl or amino acids could also provide clues to the past existence of life on the planet.  Analysis of geological samples for carbonate or sulfate minerals could also yield valuable clues in this quest. (2)
      Over the next decade, multiple unmanned missions to Mars are planned to help answer the many questions we have about the Red planet.  In order to analyze the Martian environment, suitable tools for analysis must be adapted from their Earth-bound laboratory form to  be used robotically under non-ideal conditions.  One such instrument for analysis is the Raman Spectrophotometer.   Raman spectroscopy is uniquely capable of determining the composition of rock and soil samples and organic compounds. What is the theory behind Raman Spectroscopy?  Click on the Raman Spectroscopy link to find out more.     




Raman Spectroscopy

Searching for Signs of Life

The Raman Spectrophotometer

Why Mars?

Raman - Historical Postscript






 Carolyn Rulli
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