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The SAM team recently made a shiny, new updated fact sheet. Find an overview of SAM and how it analyzes rock, soil, and atmospheric samples with its three powerful instruments here!

Author: Andrea Jones

Check it out! A video featuring MarsFest in Death Valley National Park. The SAM Team will support the third annual MarsFest at the end of this week!


Author: Andrea Jones

Planetary scientists have long studied terrestrial analogs to help them better understand the environments they observe or expect to encounter on other bodies in the Solar System. Death Valley National Park encompasses some of the most extreme environments on Earth, some of which share many similarities with Martian environments. For decades, planetary scientists and engineers have visited the Park to conduct research and test instruments.

MarsFest is a festival that invites the public to celebrate this scientific heritage and the connections between Death Valley and planetary science and exploration. It is a collaborative effort between NASA, the National Park Service, and the SETI Institute. The SAM E/PO Team helps organize and run the festival. This year, I will give a talk about the importance of planetary analog sites, as well as an overview of the Curiosity mission and science highlights so far (particularly featuring SAM) during a Curiosity Hour at the Death Valley Visitor Center.

The third annual MarsFest will take place March 28-30, 2014. It will include field trips to other-worldly sites led by planetary scientists, as well as talks about planetary science and exploration. For more information, visit: http://www.seti.org/seti-institute/marsfest-2014

Hope to see you there!

Author: Andrea Jones

A collection of SAM science results as of mid December 2013 are compiled on the Spaceflight 101 website.


Author: Paul Mahaffy

SAM has many different types of experiments it can run, but one of the more exciting results (for me) came from an experiment we ran on the Cumberland mudstone Curiosity drilled. On Earth, we can use a set of techniques to help determine the age of rocks. This had never been done before on another planet. But now, with SAM, we were able to apply similar techniques to obtain a formation age for a rock on Mars - for the very first time. The technique we used was potassium-argon dating (K-Ar), which measures how much argon gas a rock contains. Over time atoms of potassium-40 (an isotope of potassium which is radioactive) decay into the stable isotope argon-40. If we use the potassium measured from the APXS instrument on Curiosity, coupled with the amount of argon-40 SAM measures in a sample, we can calculate the age of the rock. Simple, right?

It turns out that running this experiment is not as simple as it seemed. On Earth, we have access to state-of-the-art laboratories where rock samples can be analyzed with several different instruments. Unfortunately, we have not been able to bring any rock samples from Mars back to Earth yet, so we had to design the experiment to work with the state-of-the-art laboratory we have on Mars: SAM! The rock age-dating experiment was developed and tested for many months on Earth using the SAM testbed, which is an identical running instrument we keep here at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. In the procedure for the experiment, a powdered rock sample is heated to 1000 C to release all the gases within the sample, and the evolved gases are 'cleaned' up to remove all the gases we do not need for our analysis.

Once we got all the settings and experimental parameters correct and optimized, we ran the experiment on Mars - and got some amazing results! We measured a rock's age using the K-Ar dating technique, and obtained an age of 4.21 billion years. This measured age is similar to what we had predicted the age of the rock would be before the experiment. This may not seem like an exciting result, since the measured age of the rock matched our prediction, but it proved that the technique worked and that we could apply it to other rock samples as Curiosity climbs Mt. Sharp. The experiment worked!

For the full details, see the published paper in the journal Science.

Author: Charles Malespin