Laser-based MDL instruments capable of precisely measuring emission rates of carbon dioxide and methane on Earth are currently on the Curiosity rover carrying out similar analyses on the Martian surface.
JPL and NASA have a long history of flying tunable diode laser spectrometers on Earth and planetary missions for atmospheric and trace gas analysis. MDL has been involved in the design and fabrication of space-qualified semiconductor lasers since its inception. Of note, on November 2, 2012, NASA’s Curiosity rover found clues to changes in the Martian atmosphere using an absorption spectrometer driven by a 3.27-µm semiconductor laser developed at MDL. With these initial sniffs of the atmosphere, the tunable laser spectrometer instrument made the most sensitive measurements ever to search for methane gas on Mars. Methane is of interest as a simple precursor chemical for life. On Earth, it can be produced by either biological or nonbiological processes.