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This paper describes strategies to search for, detect, and identify organic material on the surface and subsurface of Mars. The strategies described include those applied by landed missions in the past and those that will be applied in the future. The value and role of ESA's ExoMars rover and of her key science instrument Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer (MOMA) are critically assessed.
Mars landed and orbiter missions have instrumentation capable of detecting oxychlorine phases (e.g. perchlorate, chlorate) on the surface. Perchlorate (~0.6 wt%) was first detected by the Wet Chemistry Laboratory in the surface material at the Phoenix Mars Landing site. Subsequent analyses by the Thermal Evolved Gas Analyser aboard the same lander detected an oxygen release (~465°C) consistent with the thermal decomposition of perchlorate. Recent thermal analysis by the Mars Science Laboratory's Sample Analysis at Mars instrument has also indicated the presence of oxychlorine phases (up to 1.2 wt%) in Gale Crater materials. Despite being at detectable concentrations, the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) X-ray diffractometer has not detected oxychlorine phases. This suggests that Gale Crater oxychlorine may exist as poorly crystalline phases or that perchlorate/chlorate mixtures exist, so that individual oxychlorine concentrations are below CheMin detection limits (~1 wt%). Although not initially designed to detect oxychlorine phases, reinterpretation of Viking Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometer data also suggest that oxychlorine phases are present in the Viking surface materials. Remote near-infrared spectral analyses by the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) instrument indicate that at least some martian recurring slope lineae (RSL) have spectral signatures consistent with the presence of hydrated perchlorates or chlorates during the seasons when RSL are most extensive. Despite the thermal emission spectrometer, Thermal Emission Imaging System, Observatoire pour la Minéralogie, l'Eau, les Glaces et l'Activité and CRISM detection of hundreds of anhydrous chloride (~10–25 vol%) deposits, expected associated oxychlorine phases (>5–10 vol%) have not been detected. Total Cl and oxychlorine data sets from the Phoenix Lander and the Mars Science Laboratory missions could be used to develop oxychlorine versus total Cl correlations, which may constrain oxychlorine concentrations at other locations on Mars by using total Cl determined by other missions (e.g. Viking, Pathfinder, MER and Odyssey). Development of microfluidic or ‘lab-on-a-chip’ instrumentation has the potential to be the next generation analytical capability used to identify and quantify individual oxychlorine species on future landed robotic missions to Mars.
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