Mars rover to use X-ray to find signs of life

Scientists to study rocks closely

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission, which aims look for signs of past life on the Red Planet, will use smart X-ray techniques originally developed to find the oldest life on Earth.

“Previous missions to Mars have used a relatively broad brush — analysing average chemistry over roughly the size of a postage stamp — to ‘follow the water’ and seek ancient habitable environments,” said the mission’s deputy project scientist Ken Williford.

“Mars 2020 takes the next natural step in its direct search for evidence of ancient microbial life, focusing measurements to the microbial scale and producing high-resolution maps over similarly postage stamp-sized analytical areas,” Mr. Williford said.

Capacity boost

Rather than using “bulk” geochemistry techniques that measure the average composition of a rock, Mars 2020 is developing new capabilities including X-ray fluorescence and Raman spectroscopy to map the elemental, mineral, and organic composition of rocks at high spatial resolution, with analytical spot sizes about the width of a human hair.

Understanding the spatial distribution of chemical features preserved in ancient rocks is key to determining whether or not they were formed by life.

The mission will collect samples to bring back to the earth, scientists said.

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