Identification of morphological biosignatures in Martian analogue field specimens using in situ planetary instrumentation

Derek Pullan, Frances Westall, Beda A. Hofmann, John Parnell, Charles S. Cockell, Howell G. M. Edwards, Susana E. Jorge Villar, Christian Schroeder, Gordon Cressey, Lucia Marinangeli, Lutz Richter, Goestar Klingelhoefer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

33 Citations (Scopus)


We have investigated how morphological biosignatures (i.e., features related to life) might be identified with an array of viable instruments within the framework of robotic planetary surface operations at Mars. This is the first time such an integrated lab-based study has been conducted that incorporates space-qualified instrumentation designed for combined in situ imaging, analysis, and geotechnics ( sampling).

Specimens were selected on the basis of feature morphology, scale, and analogy to Mars rocks. Two types of morphological criteria were considered: potential signatures of extinct life ( fossilized microbial filaments) and of extant life (crypto-chasmoendolithic microorganisms). The materials originated from a variety of topical martian analogue localities on Earth, including impact craters, high-latitude deserts, and hydrothermal deposits.

Our in situ payload included a stereo camera, microscope, Mossbauer spectrometer, and sampling device ( all space-qualified units from Beagle 2), and an array of commercial instruments, including a multi-spectral imager, an X-ray spectrometer ( calibrated to the Beagle 2 instrument), a micro-Raman spectrometer, and a bespoke (custom-designed) X-ray diffractometer. All experiments were conducted within the engineering constraints of in situ operations to generate realistic data and address the practical challenges of measurement.

Our results demonstrate the importance of an integrated approach for this type of work. Each technique made a proportionate contribution to the overall effectiveness of our "pseudo-payload" for biogenic assessment of samples yet highlighted a number of limitations of current space instrument technology for in situ astrobiology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-156
Number of pages38
Issue number1
Early online date22 Jan 2008
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2008


  • analogue
  • in situ
  • measurement
  • biosignatures
  • planetary instrumentation
  • Mars
  • Haughton impact structure
  • Raman-spectroscopic detection
  • Yellowstone-national-park
  • Mossbauer-spectroscopy
  • meridiani-planum
  • Western-Australia
  • cryptoendolithic lichens
  • Antarctic habitats
  • Mars exploration
  • Gusev crater


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