The largest and heaviest instrument aboard the MSL is the Sample Analysis at Mars, weighing thirty-eight kilograms. SAM is, in itself, a suite of instruments. Engineered by the Goddard Space Flight Center, it contains three instruments that include a mass spectrometer, a tunable laser spectrometer and a gas chromatograph. The mass spectrometer will separate compounds and elements by their mass and perform measurements and identification. The laser spectrometer will be capable of measuring isotopes of oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen and carbon in the Martian atmosphere (which contains predominantly carbon dioxide) and will detect any water vapor, methane, hydrogen peroxide and nitrous oxides present with a sensitivity of ten parts per thousand. The gas spectrometer will take samples of soil
or rock and heat them until they vaporize. The gases given off during this process will be separated and analyzed. The SAM will essentially look for the "stuff of life'' in Mars' distant past and perhaps find evidence of the presence of microbial life.
In addition to this suite of scientific instruments on the MSL, there are two additional instruments. The Dynamic of Albedo Neutrons (DAN) instrument will be used to detect subsurface water or ice. Frozen or liquid water absorbs and slows neutrons escaping from the planet's surface as a result of cosmic ray activity more than other substance. These slower neutrons will be measured by the DAN in an effort to find this key element of biological life. It will be sensitive enough to detect water ice content as small as one-tenth of one per cent. Scientists estimate that water ice may constitute from thirty to fifty per cent of the subsurface deposits near the Martian's poles. The Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) will act as the MSL's weather station, monitoring wind speed and direction, atmospheric pressure, humidity, temperature and ultraviolet radiation from the Sun. This instrument will be mounted on the MSL's mast assembly. The Centro de Astrobiologia in Spain will provide this instrument.
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