The Sample Analysis at Mars tool is called SAM. SAM is made up of three different instruments that search for and measure organic chemicals and light elements that are important ingredients potentially associated with life.
|Main Job||Identify a wide range of organic (carbon-containing) compounds.|
|Location||Inside the rover body, on the front end of the rover.|
|Size||A box about the size of a microwave oven.|
|Weight||About 40 kilograms.|
Tunable Laser Spectrometer:
Sample Manipulation System:
The Sample Analysis at Mars instrument suite takes up more than half the science payload onboard the Mars Science Laboratory rover. SAM features chemical equipment found in many scientific laboratories on Earth. Provided by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, SAM searches for compounds of the element carbon, including methane, that are associated with life and explores ways in which they are generated and destroyed in the Martian ecosphere.
Actually a suite of three instruments, including a mass spectrometer, gas chromatograph, and tunable laser spectrometer, SAM also looks for and measures the abundances of other light elements associated with life, such as hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen.
As samples of drilled rock or scooped soil are heated within SAM, components within them vaporize and are piped to the different instruments. The mass spectrometer separates elements and compounds by mass for identification and measurement. The gas chromatograph separates the gases into various components for analysis. The laser spectrometer measures the abundance of various isotopes of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen in atmospheric gases such as methane, water vapor, and carbon dioxide.
Because these compounds are essential to life as we know it, understanding their relative abundances is essential for evaluating whether Mars could have supported life in the past or present.