Ames' contributions pageAmes MSL press kit
David Blake, geologist at Ames, is the principal investigator for the The Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument that uses X-ray diffraction - a first for a mission to Mars and a more definitive method for identifying minerals than any instrument on previous missions. It supplements the diffraction measurements with X-ray fluorescence capability to garner further details of composition.
Some minerals detectable by CheMin, such as phosphates, carbonates, sulfates andsilica, can help preserve biosignatures. Clay minerals trap and preserve organic compounds under some conditions. Some minerals that form when saltywater evaporates can encase and protect organics, too. Other minerals that CheMin could detect might also have implications about past conditions favorable to life and to preservation of biosignatures – or evidence of life.
As a member of the CheMin team, Tori Hoehler will draw on his studies of Earth's microbial communities to help place CheMin's mineralogical measurements in a biological context. He also will fill operational roles including payload uplink and downlink activities, or sending commands to and retrieving data from CheMin, and participate in Curiosity science theme group and planning exercises.
"Locked up within the physical and chemical features of rocks is a story about the conditions under which they form and their subsequent history, and sometimes that story includes life," said Hoehler. "CheMin's job is to make the story of rocks on Mars accessible by telling us about the mineralsthey are made of, and the job of our geologists is to 'read' those minerals in order to understand what conditions were like earlier in the planet's history. My job, as informed by my research on life in Earth's ecosystems, is to help interpret how those conditions affect Mars' potential to have harbored life."
Tori Hoehler is a research scientist in Ames' Exobiology Branch in the Space Sciences and Astrobiology Division, and member of the CheMin Instrument team on the Mars Science Laboratory Mission. Hoehler's background is in chemistry and oceanography. He now studies how microbial life interfaces with the geologic environment. For the past five years he has led a research program that seeks to relate biological potential to the lasting mineralogical signatures that preserve a record of environmental conditions.
For more information about CheMin, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/ames/news/features/2010/CheMin.html