A wide diversity of planetary surfaces in the solar system represent high priority targets for in situ compositional and contextual analysis as part of future missions. The planned mission portfolio will inform our knowledge of the chemistry at play on Mars, icy moons, comets, and primitive asteroids, which can lead to advances in our understanding of the interplay between inorganic and organic building blocks that led to the evolution of habitable environments on Earth and beyond. In many of these environments, the presence of water or aqueously altered mineralogy is an important indicator of habitable environments that are present or may have been present in the past. As a result, the search for complex organic chemistry that may imply the presence of a feedstock, if not an inventory of biosignatures, is naturally aligned with targeted analyses of water-rich surface materials. Here we describe the two-step laser mass spectrometry (L2MS) analytical technique that has seen broad application in the study of organics in meteoritic samples, now demonstrated to be compatible with an in situ investigation with technique improvements to target high priority planetary environments as part of a future scientific payload. An ultraviolet (UV) pulsed laser is used in previous and current embodiments of laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometry (LDMS) to produce ionized species traceable to the mineral and organic composition of a planetary surface sample. L2MS, an advanced technique in laser mass spectrometry, is selective to the aromatic organic fraction of a complex sample, which can provide additional sensitivity and confidence in the detection of specific compound structures. Use of a compact two-step laser mass spectrometer prototype has been previously reported to provide specificity to key aromatic species, such as PAHs, nucleobases, and certain amino acids. Recent improvements in this technique have focused on the interaction between the mineral matrix and the organic analyte. The majority of planetary targets of astrobiological interest are characterized by the presence of water or hydrated mineral phases. Water signatures can indicate a history of available liquid water that may have played an important role in the chemical environment of these planetary surfaces and subsurfaces. The studies we report here investigate the influence of water content on the detectability of organics by L2MS in planetary analog samples.
Lunar and Planetary Science and Exploration
Lunar and Planetary Science Conference; Mar 21, 2016 - Mar 25, 2016; The Woodlands, TX; United States