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Exploring the capability of Laser Desorption Mass Spectrometry (LDMS) to identify salts and nucleobases in Titan’s surface materials for the Dragonfly Mass Spectrometer

Presentation #205.01 in the session Titan IV: Surface and Interior (Poster)

Published onOct 23, 2023
Exploring the capability of Laser Desorption Mass Spectrometry (LDMS) to identify salts and nucleobases in Titan’s surface materials for the Dragonfly Mass Spectrometer

NASA’s Dragonfly mission will send a rotorcraft lander to assess the prebiotic chemistry and habitability of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. The scientific payload aboard Dragonfly includes the Dragonfly Mass Spectrometer (DraMS), which will conduct in situ compositional analyses of Titan’s surface materials using both Laser Desorption Mass Spectrometry (LDMS) and Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GCMS) modes. To investigate the complex and largely unexplored composition of Titan’s surface, LDMS mode will be essential in providing a broad comprehensive survey of its organic molecules. These measurements will play a role in determining whether a subsequent GCMS measurement of the surface sample is justified, and LDMS data will also provide critical information for defining the parameters of a GCMS experiment. For example, to enhance the detection of priority target analytes such as amino acids and nucleobases, chemical derivatization is employed in GCMS analysis. This process involves converting polar or nonvolatile molecules into volatile products in order to enhance detection sensitivity. Careful consideration must be taken when performing evaluations of surface samples via GCMS due to the potential impact of high salt concentrations. Salt concentrations exceeding 0.1 - 1% may diminish the derivatization yield of organic molecules, and high concentrations have the potential to damage instrument components. Here, we work to utilize LDMS as a tool to identify samples containing salts and determine whether the salt concentration could potentially reduce performance of GCMS analysis. We have demonstrated the capability of using LDMS to identify the five canonical nucleobases and representative salts (magnesium sulfate, magnesium chloride, and sodium chloride) in mixed samples with salt concentrations spanning the threshold for successful derivatization. These laboratory-based investigations will aid in the development of the DraMS operational guidelines on Titan.

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