This will be a very brief note.
In the comments section of my last diary on this website, The Transplutonium Element Curium Found On Mars, I remarked, in response to a question that the Curiosity instrument set was capable of detecting amino acids, but was unable to distinguish whether or not they were "chiral" and thus unable to add evidence to any discussion of biological or abiotic origins of any amino acids found.
I was wrong.
In a discussion here that I undertook (certainly not the best description on the internet) I described something about chirality, life, and the Murchinson meteorite, which does, in fact, contain chiral amino acids of the type normally found in living systems: The History of Water and Thus, Life, In the Cosmos.
Anyway: It does appear that Curiosity is equipped with at least one tool to detect chirality, specifically a chiral GC column...
This information can be found on the instrument package page for scientists, on the SAM (Sample Analysis on Mars) page of the Curiosity webpage.
Some chemistry talk:
If one scrolls down one can see that one of the GC columns, column 4, is a Chirasildex column.
Chiral compounds require chirality in the stationary phase to work.
The chirality in this column is - if I recall off the top of my head - a silica bonded cyclodextrin. Cyclodextrin is a plant derived sugar polymer arranged, as the name suggested in a cyclical pattern.
The carrier gas for the GC is helium, and obviously the helium supply is a limitation on how many times the instrument can be used. I'm quite sure the JPL team has a very advanced protocol for determining when and how to use this instrument.
The mass resolution of the single quad instrument is 2 to 536 daltons. This should be in the mass range to detect amino acids, but only short peptides.
Amino acids and peptides are generally not analyzed by GC, but under some circumstances one can do so by derivatization, a series of chemical reactions. Amazingly the instrument package on the Curiosity is equipped for derivatization. I am not sure about the precise derivatization chemistry used, presumably something light, stable and reactive.
This may seem somewhat esoteric, but it's really rather amazing.
The landing site, by the way, has been named for the great writer and library advocate Ray Bradbury, who recently died at the age of 92. This is wholly appropriate. The craft took its first test drive, going about six meters. Everything seems to be working fine.
By the way, RIP Neil Armstrong, and thanks for serving as a symbol of better and bolder times.
Have a nice weekend.