Planetary exploration research
Assessing the habitability of Mars and detecting life, if it ever was there, depend on the knowledge available as to whether environmental conditions on Mars are compatible with life and whether a record of that life could ever be detected. However, our current ability to make these assessments is hampered by the paucity of techniques available for this application. Therefore, this research area has two general objectives: to prepare the instrumentation and analysis methodology that improve our capabilities to evaluate the data obtained on Mars using LIBS technology and to establish the general characteristics of potential Martian research samples that allow elucidating the possible prebiotic and possibly biotic history of the planet. To achieve these objectives, this research proposes the design and development of an instrument based on laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) capable of working in a simulation chamber of the Martian atmosphere. The generation of spectral libraries of geological materials similar to those of Mars and of organic substances capable of acting as possible biosignatures is proposed, focusing on the study of carbon and its different chemical forms in plasmas as primordial elements to indicate the presence of organic substances. In addition, the information provided by laser-induced plasmas is assisted by the sound wave generated during plasma expansion towards the atmosphere. The acoustic waves in Martian-like environment of rock and mineral analogs will be studied in order to understand the factors affecting the amplitude and frequency components associated to each material.