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Astrochemistry

Introduction

How do space probes (like the Curiosity rover) look for molecules on the Moon or Mars?

The Curiosity rover has a whole suite of chemistry tools on board. The laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) tool is probably the coolest. This instrument breaks down rocks and bits of soil by firing a (freaking) laser at the target. The elements that made up that rock are then detected by atomic emission spectroscopy. Curiosity also contains an alpha particle (He2+ ion) X-ray spectrometer (APXS), which is also used to measure what elements make up a sample. If the NASA scientists want to know more than just what elements make up a sample, they can use the quadruple mass spectrometer, which can measure the mass of ions of gases and organic compounds.

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The Hoba meteorite, located in Namibia, Africa, weighs over sixty tons and is the largest piece of naturally occurring iron known. It is so large and heavy that it has never been moved from the spot where it was discovered.

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