Protocol Development for Urey: Mars Organic and Oxidant Detector

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Earth Science and Engineering


The detection of life on planets other than the Earth is a major goal of modern space exploration. It is generally considered that the most likely host for life elsewhere in our Solar System is the planet Mars. Optimism surrounding the possibility of current life on Mars has been boosted by recent data from the red planet. Planetary missions, such as Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Odyssey, Mars Express and the Mars Exploration Rovers have revealed extensive evidence of landforms and minerals produced by liquid water. Extreme scientific and public interest currently exists about whether life has been present in the past or still exists on Mars and it is this planet that will be the focus of the forthcoming ExoMars mission set to launch in 2013. The ExoMars rover contains a suite of organic analytical instruments to detect organic compounds at unprecedented levels of sensitivity, specificity and analytical confidence. The Urey instrument is central to that package and will perform a groundbreaking investigation of the Martian environment that will involve searching for organic compounds indicative of life and prebiotic chemistry at a sensitivity many orders of magnitude greater than obtained in previous in situ organic detection systems. UK responsibility is in advising sample selection, determining extraction conditions, driving preliminary characterization of organic assemblages and performing detailed identification of abiogenic PAH hydrocarbons. These tasks place the UK effort at the forefront of the ExoMars organic detection experiments. This proposal requests the continuation of briding funding to continue work on the Urey project.


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