An international team of scientists has created a tiny chemistry lab for a rover that will drill beneath the Martian surface looking for signs of past or present life. The toaster oven-sized lab, called the Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer or MOMA, is a key instrument on the ExoMars Rover, a joint mission between the European Space Agency and the Russian space agency Roscosmos, with a significant contribution to MOMA from NASA. It will be launched toward the Red Planet in July 2020.
“The ExoMars Rover’s two-meter deep drill will provide MOMA with unique samples that may contain complex organic compounds preserved from an ancient era, when life might have gotten started on Mars,” said MOMA Project Scientist Will Brinckerhoff of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. (…)
The MOMA instrument will be capable of detecting a wide variety of organic molecules. Organic compounds are commonly associated with life, although they can be created by non-biological processes as well. Organic molecules contain carbon and hydrogen, and can include oxygen, nitrogen, and other elements. To find these molecules on Mars, the MOMA team had to take instruments that would normally occupy a couple of workbenches in a chemistry lab and shrink them down to roughly the size of a toaster oven so they would be practical to install on a rover… [More at link]