This artist's rendition depicts a concept for a Mars orbiter that would scrutinize the martian atmosphere for chemical traces of life or environments supportive of life that might be present anywhere on the planet. The illustration is presented as a three-dimensional stereo view.
The concept is named the Mars Volcanic Emission and Life Scout, or Marvel. It would equip a Mars orbiter with two types of instruments proven useful in studying Earth's atmosphere from Earth orbit. One, a solar occultation infrared spectrometer, would look sideways through Mars' atmosphere toward the setting or rising Sun for an extremely sensitive reading of what chemicals are in the air that sunlight passes through before hitting the instrument. The other, a submillimeter spectrometer would survey the atmosphere continuously, including during dust storms and polar night, to seek localized surface sources of the chemicals of interest. The infrared spectrometer has very high sensitivity for one chemical of great interest: methane, which is produced by many types of microbes, as well as by some volcanic sources. The submillimeter spectrometer has very high sensitivity for water vapor. Localized concentrations of water vapor in the atmosphere could identify places where subsurface water sources may be venting.