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Laser fluorescence could find life on Mars
Date:6/23/2008

am, said the challenge is to make the instrument light enough to be flown, and robust enough to survive the cold, minus-120 degree (C) Martian nights.

"With ExoMars PanCam, we already have thrilling science stereo and zoom imagery giving the context for all the ExoMars life detection experiments and the use of colored filters to provide rock identification and atmospheric composition," Coates said. "If the team can show this is light and rugged enough, we will propose taking it to Mars."

Proving such durability will be a challenge, according to Andrew Griffiths, a co-author on the paper and the instrument manager for the ExoMars PanCam team. "Getting to Mars is tough, as we found with Beagle 2," he pointed out. "Surviving the surface conditions is even tougher, particularly with new technology."

While using fluorescence to illuminate organic material has been done for decades, light sources were too large and unwieldy to use for a robotic mission to another planet, said Storrie-Lombardi. However, new generations of light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, are very small, reliable and energy efficient, he added.

"Placed on a Mars rover, one of these LEDs positioned a few centimeters from a target can easily provide enough light to produce fluorescence in small polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons," Storrie-Lombardi said. "But even more encouraging is the very recent development of a small 375 nanometer laser diode that can illuminate anything a PanCam can see, including geological layers and crevices high up on an otherwise inaccessible rock outcrop."

Added Muller: "This laser is now undergoing rigorous tests in the laboratory under Mars-like conditions prior to showing that it is flight-ready, even at this late stage, to be seriously considered to be launched in only five years' time."

The instrument appears to be "an ideal initial survey tool," Storrie-Lombardi pointed out.

"It requires no sample preparation, does
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Contact: Marty Fisk
mfisk@coas.oregonstate.edu
541-737-5208
Oregon State University
Source:Eurekalert

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