Video Courtesy of JPL News
The Mars Science Laboratory rover “Curiosity” has been actively studying the surface of Mars using the rover’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument. SAM has been studying the Martian atmosphere for signs of life on the Red Planet.
SAM is actually comprised of three instruments that work together to sample the air around Curiosity’s landing site at Gale Crater on Mars. SAM measures the chemical elements and molecules in a mass or size range between 2 and 535 mass units. Through this Sam can determine the different gases that compose the Martian air. It was through this instrument that it was determined that the gas methane was virtually non-existent at Gale.
Methane is a possible indicator gas for life (it can also be produce by non-biological processes).
The three components that make up the SAM are the Gas Chromatograph (GC), Quadrupole Mass Spectrometer (QMS), and the Tunable Laser Spectrometer (TLS). SAM also has a system that manipulates the samples that the rover collects.
The turntable, in particular, will play a crucial role for SAM as it sniffs out possible methane on Mars. Methane has been detected via telescopes from Earth on Mars as well as by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter in the lower Martian atmosphere. SAM will periodically sample the Martian atmosphere to look for any seasonal changes.