Tunable Laser Spectrometers for Planetary Science

Christopher R. Webster, Amy E. Hofmann, Paul R. Mahaffy, Sushil K. Atreya, Christopher H. House, Amy A. Simon, James B. Garvin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Distinguishing planetary formation and evolution pathways and understanding the origins of volatiles on planetary bodies requires determination of relative abundances and isotope ratios in the noble gases, and also of the isotope ratios in C, H, N, O and S at high precisions. Traditional planetary mass spectrometers uniquely provide excellent survey capability including the noble gas relative abundances and their isotope ratios. However, to distinguish planetary evolution models for the outer planets, stable isotope ratios in C and O require precisions of ∼10‰ or better, readily achievable with a tunable laser spectrometer (TLS). As demonstrated on the Mars Curiosity rover, and as planned for a now-selected NASA Venus mission, tunable laser spectrometers play a unique role synergistic with the capabilities of planetary mass spectrometers. The TLS technique of recording infrared absorption spectra at ultrahigh resolution (resolving power λ / δλ∼ 5 million) provides unambiguous detection of a wide variety of gases such as H2O, H2O2, H2CO, HOCl, NO, NO2, HNO3, N2O, O3, CO, CO2, NH3, N2H4, PH3, H2S, SO2, OCS, HCl, HF, O2, HCN, and CH4, C2H2, C2H4, C2H6 at parts-per-billion levels. Through line-depth or line-area ratio comparisons of adjacent spectral lines, planetary TLS instruments can achieve isotope ratio measurements in C, H, N, O, and S molecules at precisions of ∼1–2‰, including for the triple isotope components of O and S. Expected performance of TLS instruments for Venus, Saturn, Enceladus and Uranus will be described as constrained by actual measurements reported at Mars on the Curiosity rover.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number78
JournalSpace Science Reviews
Issue number8
StatePublished - Dec 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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