Jump to content

Why Scientists Are Intrigued by Air in NASA’s Mars Sample Tubes


NASA

Recommended Posts

  • Publishers

5 min read

Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater)

NASA’s Perseverance rover viewed these dust devils
NASA’s Perseverance rover viewed these dust devils swirling across the surface of Mars on July 20, 2021. Scientists want to study the air trapped in samples being collected in metal tubes by Perseverance. Those air samples could help them better understand the Martian atmosphere.
NASA/JPL-Caltech

Tucked away with each rock and soil sample collected by the agency’s Perseverance rover is a potential boon for atmospheric scientists.

Atmospheric scientists get a little more excited with every rock core NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover seals in its titanium sample tubes, which are being gathered for eventual delivery to Earth as part of the Mars Sample Return campaign. Twenty-four have been taken so far.

Most of those samples consist of rock cores or regolith (broken rock and dust) that might reveal important information about the history of the planet and whether microbial life was present billions of years ago. But some scientists are just as thrilled at the prospect of studying the “headspace,” or air in the extra room around the rocky material, in the tubes.

They want to learn more about the Martian atmosphere, which is composed mostly of carbon dioxide but could also include trace amounts of other gases that may have been around since the planet’s formation.

“The air samples from Mars would tell us not just about the current climate and atmosphere, but how it’s changed over time,” said Brandi Carrier, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “It will help us understand how climates different from our own evolve.”

The Value of Headspace

Among the samples that could be brought to Earth is one tube filled solely with gas deposited on the Martian surface as part of a sample depot. But far more of the gas in the rover’s collection is within the headspace of rock samples. These are unique because the gas will be interacting with rocky material inside the tubes for years before the samples can be opened and analyzed in laboratories on Earth. What scientists glean from them will lend insight into how much water vapor hovers near the Martian surface, one factor that determines why ice forms where it does on the planet and how Mars’ water cycle has evolved over time.

Scientists also want a better understanding of trace gases in the air at Mars. Most scientifically tantalizing would be the detection of noble gases (such as neon, argon, and xenon), which are so nonreactive that they may have been around, unchanged in the atmosphere, since forming billions of years ago. If captured, those gases could reveal whether Mars started with an atmosphere. (Ancient Mars had a much thicker atmosphere than it does today, but scientists aren’t sure whether it was always there or whether it developed later). There are also big questions about how the planet’s ancient atmosphere compared with early Earth’s.

The headspace would additionally provide a chance to assess the size and toxicity of dust particles — information that will help future astronauts on Mars.

“The gas samples have a lot to offer Mars scientists,” said Justin Simon, a geochemist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, who is part of a group of over a dozen international experts that helps decide which samples the rover should collect. “Even scientists who don’t study Mars would be interested because it will shed light on how planets form and evolve.”

Apollo’s Air Samples

In 2021, a group of planetary researchers, including scientists from NASA, studied the air brought back from the Moon in a steel container by Apollo 17 astronauts some 50 years earlier.

“People think of the Moon as airless, but it has a very tenuous atmosphere that interacts with the lunar surface rocks over time,” said Simon, who studies a variety of planetary samples at Johnson. “That includes noble gases leaking out of the Moon’s interior and collecting at the lunar surface.”

The way Simon’s team extracted the gas for study is similar to what could be done with Perseverance’s air samples. First, they put the previously unopened container into an airtight enclosure. Then they pierced the steel with a needle to extract the gas into a cold trap — essentially a U-shaped pipe that extends into a liquid, like nitrogen, with a low freezing point. By changing the temperature of the liquid, scientists captured some of the gases with lower freezing points at the bottom of the cold trap.

“There’s maybe 25 labs in the world that manipulate gas in this way,” Simon said. Besides being used to study the origin of planetary materials, this approach can be applied to gases from hot springs and those emitted from the walls of active volcanoes, he added.

Of course, those sources provide much more gas than Perseverance has in its sample tubes. But if a single tube doesn’t carry enough gas for a particular experiment, Mars scientists could combine gases from multiple tubes to get a larger aggregate sample — one more way the headspace offers a bonus opportunity for science.

More About the Mission

A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover is also characterizing the planet’s geology and past climate, which paves the way for human exploration of the Red Planet. JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.

For more about Perseverance:

mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/

News Media Contacts

Andrew Good
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-393-2433
andrew.c.good@jpl.nasa.gov

Karen Fox / Charles Blue
NASA Headquarters, Washington
202-285-1600 / 202-802-5345
karen.c.fox@nasa.gov / charles.e.blue@nasa.gov

2024-087

View the full article

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Similar Topics

    • By NASA
      The latest crew chosen by NASA to venture on a simulated trip to Mars inside the agency’s Human Exploration Research Analog. From left are Sergii Iakymov, Erin Anderson, Brandon Kent, and Sarah Elizabeth McCandless.Credit: C7M3 Crew NASA selected a new team of four research volunteers to participate in a simulated mission to Mars within HERA (Human Exploration Research Analog) at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
      Erin Anderson, Sergii Iakymov, Brandon Kent, and Sarah Elizabeth McCandless will begin their simulated trek to Mars on Friday, Aug. 9. The volunteer crew members will stay inside the 650-square-foot habitat for 45 days, exiting Monday, Sept. 23 after a simulated “return” to Earth. Jason Staggs and Anderson Wilder will serve as alternate crew members.
      The HERA missions offer scientific insights into how people react to the type of isolation, confinement, work and life demands, and remote conditions astronauts might experience during deep space missions.
      The facility supports more frequent, shorter-duration simulations in the same building as CHAPEA (Crew Health and Performance Analog). This crew is the third group of volunteers to participate in a simulated Mars mission in HERA this year. The most recent crew completed its HERA mission on June 24. In total, there will be four analog missions in this series.
      During this summer’s simulation, participants will perform a mix of science and operational tasks, including harvesting plants from a hydroponic garden, growing shrimp, deploying a small, cube-shaped satellite (CubeSat) to simulate gathering virtual data for analysis, “walking” on the surface of Mars using virtual reality goggles, and flying simulated drones on the simulated Mars surface. The team members also will encounter increasingly longer communication delays with Mission Control throughout their mission, culminating in five-minute lags as they “near” Mars. Astronauts traveling to Mars may experience communications delays of up to 20 minutes.
      NASA’s Human Research Program will conduct 18 human health experiments during each of the 2024 HERA missions. Collectively, the studies explore how a Mars-like journey may affect the crew members’ mental and physical health. The work also will allow scientists to test certain procedures and equipment designed to keep astronauts safe and healthy on deep space missions.

      Primary Crew
      Erin Anderson
      Erin Anderson is a structural engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia. Her work focuses on manufacturing and building composite structures — using materials engineered to optimize strength, stiffness, and density — that fly in air and space.
      Anderson earned a bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2013. After graduating, she worked as a structural engineer for Boeing on NASA’s SLS (Space Launch System) in Huntsville, Alabama. She moved to New Orleans to support the assembly of the first core stage of the SLS at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility. Anderson received a master’s degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, in 2020. She started her current job in 2021, continuing her research on carbon fiber composites.
      In her free time, Anderson enjoys playing rugby, doting on her dog, Sesame, and learning how to ride paddleboard at local beaches.

      Sergii Iakymov
      Sergii Iakymov is an aerospace engineer with more than 15 years of experience in research and design, manufacturing, quality control, and project management. Iakymov currently serves as the director of the Mars Desert Research Station, a private, Utah-based research facility that serves as an operational and geological Mars analog.
      Iakymov received a bachelor’s degree in Aviation and Cosmonautics and a master’s in Aircraft Control Systems from Kyiv Polytechnic Institute in Ukraine. His graduate research focused on the motion of satellites equipped with pitch flywheels and magnetic coils.
      Iakymov was born in Germany, raised in Ukraine, and currently splits his time between southern Utah and Chino Hills, California. His hobbies include traveling, running, hiking, scuba diving, photography, and reading.

      Brandon Kent
      Brandon Kent is a medical director in the pharmaceutical industry, supporting ongoing global efforts to develop new therapies across cancer types.
      Kent received a bachelor’s degrees in Biochemistry and Biology from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He earned his doctorate in Biomedicine from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, where his work primarily focused on how genetic factors regulate early embryonic development and cancer development.
      Following graduate school, Kent moved into scientific and medical communications consulting in oncology, primarily focusing on clinical trial data disclosures, scientific exchange, and medical education initiatives.
      Kent and his wife have two daughters. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his daughters, flying private aircraft, hiking, staying physically fit, and reading. He lives in Kinnelon, New Jersey.

      Sarah Elizabeth McCandless
      Sarah Elizabeth McCandless is a navigation engineer for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. McCandless’ job involves tracking the location and predicting the future trajectory of spacecraft, including the Mars Perseverance rover, Artemis I, Psyche, and Europa Clipper.
      McCandless received a bachelor’s in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Kansas in Lawrence, and a master’s in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin, focused on orbital mechanics.
      McCandless is originally from Fairway, Kansas, and remains an avid fan of sports teams from her alma mater and hometown. She is active in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) outreach and education and enjoys camping, running, traveling with friends and family, and piloting Cessna 172s. She lives in Pasadena, California.

      Alternate Crew
      Jason Staggs
      Jason Staggs is a cybersecurity researcher and adjunct professor of computer science at the University of Tulsa. His research focuses on systems security engineering, infrastructure protection, and resilient autonomous systems. Staggs is an editor for the International Journal of Critical Infrastructure Protection and the Critical Infrastructure Protection book series.
      Staggs supported scientific research expeditions with the National Science Foundation at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. He also previously served as a space engineer and medical officer while working as an analog astronaut in the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) atop the Mauna Loa volcano.
      Staggs received his bachelor’s degree in Information Assurance and Forensics at Oklahoma State University and master’s and doctorate degrees in Computer Science from the University of Tulsa. During his postdoctoral studies at Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho Falls, he investigated electric vehicle charging station vulnerabilities.
      In his spare time, Staggs enjoys hiking, building radio systems, communicating with ham radio operators in remote locations, and volunteering as a solar system ambassador for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory — sharing his passion for astronomy, oceanography, and space exploration with his community.

      Anderson Wilder
      Anderson Wilder is a Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne graduate student working on his doctorate in psychology. His research focuses on team resiliency and human-machine interactions. Wilder also works in the campus neuroscience lab, investigating how spaceflight contributes to astronaut neurobehavioral changes.
      Wilder previously served as an executive officer and engineer for an analog mission at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah. There, he performed studies related to crew social dynamics, plant growth, and geology.
      Wilder received bachelor’s degrees in Linguistics and Psychology from Ohio State University in Columbus. He also received a master’s degree in Space Studies from International Space University in Strasbourg, France, and is completing a second master’s in Cognitive Experimental Psychology from Cleveland State University in Ohio.
      Outside of school, Wilder works as a parabolic flight coach, teaching people how to experience reduced-gravity environments. He also enjoys chess, reading, video games, skydiving, and scuba diving. On a recent dive, he explored a submerged section of the Great Wall of China.
      ____
      NASA’s Human Research Program
      NASA’s Human Research Program (HRP) pursues the best methods and technologies to support safe, productive human space travel. Through science conducted in laboratories, ground-based analogs, and the International Space Station, HRP scrutinizes how spaceflight affects human bodies and behaviors. Such research drives HRP’s quest to innovate ways to keep astronauts healthy and mission-ready as space travel expands to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.
      Explore More
      2 min read Exploring the Moon: Episode Previews
      Article 3 days ago 6 min read Voyagers of Mars: The First CHAPEA Crew’s Yearlong Journey 
      Article 2 weeks ago 5 min read From Polar Peaks to Celestial Heights: Christy Hansen’s Unique Path to Leading NASA’s Commercial Low Earth Orbit Development Program 
      Article 2 weeks ago Keep Exploring Discover More Topics From NASA
      Living in Space
      Artemis
      Human Research Program
      Space Station Research and Technology
      View the full article
    • By Space Force
      Saltzman’s address began with a discussion on the current model of nuclear strategic deterrence using a historical anecdote referencing an early military use of the concept in western civilization: Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War.

      View the full article
    • By vtechgErunc
      Интересно: [url=https://alikson.ru/noutbuki-1001/tag-noutbuki-s-protsessorom-i7/]игровой ноутбук core i7[/url] или [url=https://ci-smart.ru]системные блоки купить[/url]

      Может быть полезным: https://alikson.ru/zhestkie-diski-i-ssd-1081/tag-ssd-diski-dlya-noutbuka/ или [url=https://iq-techno.ru]купить планшет онлайн[/url]

      [url=https://techno1ogy.ru]где купить комплектующие для ПК[/url]

      Ещё можно узнать: [url=http://yourdesires.ru/vse-obo-vsem/1382-chto-takoe-iskopaemoe.html]что такое ископаемые[/url]
    • By Space Force
      Remarks by CSO Gen. Chance Saltzman at the 2024 Global Air and Space Chiefs Conference.
      View the full article
    • By NASA
      6 min read
      Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater)
      To view this video please enable JavaScript, and consider upgrading to a web browser that supports HTML5 video
      In this time-lapse video of a test conducted at JPL in June 2023, an engineering model of the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL) instrument aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover places itself against a rock to collect data. NASA/JPL-Caltech Artificial intelligence is helping scientists to identify minerals within rocks studied by the Perseverance rover.
      Some scientists dream of exploring planets with “smart” spacecraft that know exactly what data to look for, where to find it, and how to analyze it. Although making that dream a reality will take time, advances made with NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover offer promising steps in that direction.
      For almost three years, the rover mission has been testing a form of artificial intelligence that seeks out minerals in the Red Planet’s rocks. This marks the first time AI has been used on Mars to make autonomous decisions based on real-time analysis of rock composition.
      PIXL, the white instrument at top left, is one of several science tools located on the end of the robotic arm aboard NASA’s Perseverance rover. The Mars rover’s left navcam took the images that make up this composite on March 2, 2021NASA/JPL-Caltech The software supports PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry), a spectrometer developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. By mapping the chemical composition of minerals across a rock’s surface, PIXL allows scientists to determine whether the rock formed in conditions that could have been supportive of microbial life in Mars’ ancient past.
      Called “adaptive sampling,” the software autonomously positions the instrument close to a rock target, then looks at PIXL’s scans of the target to find minerals worth examining more deeply. It’s all done in real time, without the rover talking to mission controllers back on Earth.
      “We use PIXL’s AI to home in on key science,” said the instrument’s principal investigator, Abigail Allwood of JPL. “Without it, you’d see a hint of something interesting in the data and then need to rescan the rock to study it more. This lets PIXL reach a conclusion without humans examining the data.”
      This image of a rock target nicknamed “Thunderbolt Peak” was created by NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover using PIXL, which determines the mineral composition of rocks by zapping them with X-rays. Each blue dot in the image represents a spot where an X-ray hit.NASA/JPL-Caltech/DTU/QUT Data from Perseverance’s instruments, including PIXL, helps scientists determine when to drill a core of rock and seal it in a titanium metal tube so that it, along with other high-priority samples, could be brought to Earth for further study as part of NASA’s Mars Sample Return campaign.
      Adaptive sampling is not the only application of AI on Mars. About 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers) from Perseverance is NASA’s Curiosity, which pioneered a form of AI that allows the rover to autonomously zap rocks with a laser based on their shape and color. Studying the gas that burns off after each laser zap reveals a rock’s chemical composition. Perseverance features this same ability, as well as a more advanced form of AI that enables it to navigate without specific direction from Earth. Both rovers still rely on dozens of engineers and scientists to plan each day’s set of hundreds of individual commands, but these digital smarts help both missions get more done in less time.
      “The idea behind PIXL’s adaptive sampling is to help scientists find the needle within a haystack of data, freeing up time and energy for them to focus on other things,” said Peter Lawson, who led the implementation of adaptive sampling before retiring from JPL. “Ultimately, it helps us gather the best science more quickly.”
      Using AI to Position PIXL
      AI assists PIXL in two ways. First, it positions the instrument just right once the instrument is in the vicinity of a rock target. Located at the end of Perseverance’s robotic arm, the spectrometer sits on six tiny robotic legs, called a hexapod. PIXL’s camera repeatedly checks the distance between the instrument and a rock target to aid with positioning.
      Temperature swings on Mars are large enough that Perseverance’s arm will expand or contract a microscopic amount, which can throw off PIXL’s aim. The hexapod automatically adjusts the instrument to get it exceptionally close without coming into contact with the rock.
      “We have to make adjustments on the scale of micrometers to get the accuracy we need,” Allwood said. “It gets close enough to the rock to raise the hairs on the back of an engineer’s neck.”
      Making a Mineral Map
      Once PIXL is in position, another AI system gets the chance to shine. PIXL scans a postage-stamp-size area of a rock, firing an X-ray beam thousands of times to create a grid of microscopic dots. Each dot reveals information about the chemical composition of the minerals present.
      Minerals are crucial to answering key questions about Mars. Depending on the rock, scientists might be on the hunt for carbonates, which hide clues to how water may have formed the rock, or they may be looking for phosphates, which could have provided nutrients for microbes, if any were present in the Martian past.
      There’s no way for scientists to know ahead of time which of the hundreds of X-ray zaps will turn up a particular mineral, but when the instrument finds certain minerals, it can automatically stop to gather more data — an action called a “long dwell.” As the system improves through machine learning, the list of minerals on which PIXL can focus with a long dwell is growing.
      “PIXL is kind of a Swiss army knife in that it can be configured depending on what the scientists are looking for at a given time,” said JPL’s David Thompson, who helped develop the software. “Mars is a great place to test out AI since we have regular communications each day, giving us a chance to make tweaks along the way.”
      When future missions travel deeper into the solar system, they’ll be out of contact longer than missions currently are on Mars. That’s why there is strong interest in developing more autonomy for missions as they rove and conduct science for the benefit of humanity.
      More About the Mission
      A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).
      Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.
      The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.
      JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.
      For more about Perseverance:
      mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/
      News Media Contacts
      Andrew Good
      Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
      818-393-2433
      andrew.c.good@jpl.nasa.gov
      Karen Fox / Alana Johnson
      NASA Headquarters, Washington
      202-358-1600 / 202-358-1501
      karen.c.fox@nasa.gov / alana.r.johnson@nasa.gov
      2024-099
      Share
      Details
      Last Updated Jul 16, 2024 Related Terms
      Perseverance (Rover) Astrobiology High-Tech Computing Jet Propulsion Laboratory Mars Mars 2020 Radioisotope Power Systems (RPS) Robotics Science-enabling Technology Explore More
      1 min read NASA Science Activation Teams Present at National Rural STEM Summit
      NASA Science Activation (SciAct) teams participated in the National Rural STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, &…
      Article 2 weeks ago 4 min read NASA’s Planetary Radar Tracks Two Large Asteroid Close Approaches
      Article 2 weeks ago 3 min read NASA’s ECOSTRESS Maps Burn Risk Across Phoenix Streets
      Article 2 weeks ago Keep Exploring Discover Related Topics
      Missions
      Humans in Space
      Climate Change
      Solar System
      View the full article
  • Check out these Videos

×
×
  • Create New...