As some of you may have heard, there are some curious things happening on Mars. To be specific, there is a robot named Curiosity cruising around the red planet as we speak, and he is packing some heat, literally.

Picture of Curiosity while he was waiting
to be sent on his mission to Mars.

On our friend Curiosity, who is the size of a car and runs on nuclear power, there is a device that turns rocks into dust for his analysis on Mars. The rock-vaporizing laser, named ChemCam, has a range of 25 feet and can identify elements in the rock gas. Scientists are hoping that ChemCam finds rock vapors that have traces of carbon in order to further research efforts.

Another tool Curiosity has on his belt isn’t something you can buy at the Home Depot, because a team that consists of scientists and engineers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, University of Paris, Jet Propulsion Laboratories, and Honeybee Robotics created this microwave-sized instrument. SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) has 74 cups to use for studying ground-up rocks that will be heated to 1800 degrees, and then examined by three different instruments (Quadrupole Mass Spectrometer, Gas Chromatograph, and Tunable Laser Spectrometer) in order to identify the compounds on Mars, and hopefully find organic materials.

Now, you may be thinking, “Kayte, NASA already sent up two Viking landers in 1976 to examine the surface of Mars for organics.” What SAM does, that the Viking landers didn’t do in the 70’s, is heat up the examined rocks to temperatures hotter than the Vikings could. This intense heat destroys perchlorates, which are believed to destroy organics during the increase of its environment’s temperature, before they get a chance to eat up the vital organics Curiosity is looking for. SAM also has nine cups that utilize a chemical solvent that gives way for SAM to examine rocks at lower temperatures.

A cartoon view of where the three different
instruments are located within SAM.
Such altered methods of examining rock compositions will hopefully assist scientists in answering three main questions while Curiosity is checking out Mars. These questions can be found on the SAM Instrumentation description on the NASA website, as well as a description of the systems and instruments contained within SAM’s capabilities.

The possibility of life on Mars is a concept that NASA is still trying to validate. With NASA’s hopes and dreams up on the red planet set within a robot named Curiosity, we can only hope that his friends ChemCam and SAM can help him bring us answers that feed our interests in the possibility of a futuristic world on Mars.

Bring ‘em home Curiosity. Bring ‘em home.