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 on board the Mars Science Laboratory rover and features chemical equipment found in many scientific laboratories on Earth. Provided by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Sample Analysis at Mars will search for compounds of the element carbon, including methane, that are associated with life and explore 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, Sample Analysis at Mars will also look for and measure the abundances of other light elements, such as hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, associated with life.
The mass spectrometer will separate elements and compounds by mass for identification and measurement. The gas chromatograph will heat soil and rock samples until they vaporize, and will then separate the resulting gases into various components for analysis. The laser spectrometer will measure the abundance of various isotopes of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen in atmospheric gases such as methane, water vapor, and carbon dioxide. These measurements will be accurate to within 10 parts per thousand.
Because these compounds are essential to life as we know it, their relative abundances will be an essential piece of information for evaluating whether Mars could have supported life in the past or present.