The Department for Planetary Laboratories bundles the astrobiological, spectroscopy and analytical laboratory activities of the Institute for Planetary Research. The department combines the Astrobiological Laboratories, the Planetary Spectroscopy Laboratory (PSL) and the new Sample Analysis Laboratory (SAL). Within this department we offer a wide range of laboratory techniques as well as environmental chambers that cover almost all bodies in the solar system and beyond.
The Astrobiological Laboratories are investigating the habitability of Mars, the detection of life in Mars-like and icy Moon-like environments, using planetary simulation experiments in the field, in the laboratories, and in space (Low Earth Orbit). In addition, the habitability of exoplanets is a focus. Further in addition to the Mars (MSF) simulation facility mimicking the present Martian conditions a new Planetary Analog Simulation laboratory (PASLAB) will also be able to simulate the environmental conditions of early Earth, Early Mars, icy moons and exoplanets and has facilities for biological, physical and geo-chemical research. This allows to combine empirical results of investigated organisms in different planetary environments with results obtained by modelling. The third astrobiological laboratory is the Raman-Mineral- Biology Detection Lab (RMBD) which is able to detect minerals, salts, biomolecules and organisms under ambient and icy planetary environmental conditions.
The Planetary Spectroscopy Laboratories (PSL) are building on the long-standing heritage in infrared remote sensing and infrared laboratory spectroscopy for planetary surfaces. Hyperspectral remote sensing instrument are integral part of almost every planetary mission. In combination with appropriate analysis techniques and supporting laboratory measurements they provide key information on surface composition and mineralogy. The institute has consolidated all UV, visible and infrared spectroscopy in the PSL. PSL is the only spectroscopic infrastructure in the world that offers the capability to measure emissivity of powder materials, in air or in vacuum, from low to very high temperatures (150-700K), over an extended spectral range (0.2-200 µm) in a range of planetary simulation chambers. Emissivity measurements are complimented by reflectance and transmittance measurements produced simultaneously with the same setup. In addition, the institute is operating a Raman micro-spectrometer lab with a spot size on the sample in focus of <1.5 µm. The spectrometer is equipped with a cryostat serving as a planetary simulation chamber which permits simulation of environmental conditions on icy moons and planetary surfaces, namely pressure (10-6 hPa – 1000 hPa), atmospheric constituents, and temperature (4K – 500K).
Global reconnaissance of planetary surface can only be obtained by remote sensing methods. Optical spectroscopy from UV to far-infrared is playing a key role to determine surface mineralogy, texture, weathering processes, volatile abundances etc. It is a very versatile technique, which will continue to be of importance for many years to come. Providing ground truth by in-situ measurements and ultimately sample return can significantly enhance the scientific return of the global remote sensing data.
This motivates the extension of the department with a Sample Analysis Laboratory (SAL).
SAL will focus on spectroscopical, geochemical, mineralogical analyses at microscopic level with the ultimate aim to derive information on the formation and evolution of planetary bodies and surfaces, search for traces of organic materials or even traces of extinct or extant life and inclusions of water.
For this purpose, SAL will be equipped with an Electron Microprobe Analyser (EMPA), a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM), an X-ray diffraction (XRD) system including μ-XRD capabilities, as well as an infrared microscope operated at PSL. SAL will be housed in a clean room facility.
The department directly supports the development of new remote-sensing and in-situ instrumentation by providing measurements on filter, coatings and materials, as well as calibration facilities. New methods for the highly accurate measurement of trace humidity have been developed in the department. The department is extensively collaboration with industrial partners.
To handle the increased complexity and volume of hyperspectral datasets the department has focused on developing advanced data analysis and handling techniques including approaches using neural networks and modern data mining techniques.
This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 871149.