Laser-Induced Fluorescence Emission (L.I.F.E.): searching for Mars organics with a UV-enhanced PanCam

Michael Storrie-Lombardi, Jan-Peter Muller, Martin Fisk, Claire Rachel Cousins, B Sattler, Andrew Griffiths, Andrew Coates

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The European Space Agency will launch the ExoMars mission in 2016 with a primary goal of surveying the martian subsurface for evidence of organic material. We have recently investigated the utility of including either a 365 nm light-emitting diode or a 375 nm laser light source in the ExoMars rover panoramic camera (PanCam). Such a modification would make it feasible to monitor rover drill cuttings optically for the fluorescence signatures of aromatic organic molecules and map the distribution of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) as a function of depth to the 2 m limit of the ExoMars drill. The technique described requires no sample preparation, does not consume irreplaceable resources, and would allow mission control to prioritize deployment of organic detection experiments that require sample destruction, expenditure of non-replaceable consumables, or both. We report here for the first time laser-induced fluorescence emission (L.I.F.E.) imaging detection limits for anthracene, pyrene, and perylene targets doped onto a Mars analog granular peridotite with a 375 nm Nichia laser diode in optically uncorrected wide-angle mode. Data were collected via the Beagle 2 PanCam backup filter wheel fitted with original blue (440 nm), green (530 nm), and red (670 nm) filters. All three PAH species can be detected with the PanCam green (530 nm) filter. Detection limits in the green band for signal-to-noise ratios (S/N) > 10 are 49 parts per million (ppm) for anthracene, 145 ppm for pyrene, and 20 ppm for perylene. The anthracene detection limit improves to 7 ppm with use of the PanCam blue filter. We discuss soil-dependent detection limit constraints; use of UV excitation with other rover cameras, which provides higher spatial resolution; and the advantages of focused and wide-angle laser modes. Finally, we discuss application of L.I.F.E. techniques at multiple wavelengths for exploration of Mars analog extreme environments on Earth, including Icelandic hydrothermally altered basalts and the ice-covered lakes and glaciers of Dronning Maud Land, Antarctica.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 2010


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