Effect of grain size distribution on Raman analyses and the consequences for in situ planetary missions


Correspondence to: F. Foucher, Centre de Biophysique Moléculaire, UPR CNRS 4301, 45071 Orléans Cedex 2, France

E-mail: frederic.foucher@cnrs-orleans.fr


Raman spectroscopy can be used for analysing both mineral and organic phases, thus allowing characterisation of the microbial-scale geological context as well as the search for possible traces of life. This method is therefore very useful for in situ planetary exploration missions. Compared with the myriad of sample preparation techniques available in terrestrial laboratories, the possibilities for sample preparation during in situ missions on other planetary bodies are extremely limited and are generally restricted to abrasion of rock surfaces or crushing of the target samples. Whereas certain techniques need samples to be prepared in powder form, such as X-ray diffraction, this kind of preparation is not particularly suitable for optical microscopy and/or Raman spectroscopy. In this contribution, we examine the effects of powdering rock and mineral samples on optical observations and Raman analyses. We used a commercial Raman spectrometer, as well as a Raman laser spectrometer that simulates the instrument being developed for the future ExoMars 2018 mission. The commercial Raman spectrometer documents significant modifications to the spectra of the powdered samples, including broadening of the peaks and shifts in their position, as well as the appearance of new peaks. These effects are caused by localised heating of the sample under the laser beam and amplification of nominal surface effects due to the increase in surface area in finer grain sizes. However, most changes observed in the Raman spectra using the Raman laser spectrometer system are negligible because the relatively large (50 µm diameter) laser spot size produces lower irradiance. Furthermore, minor phases were more easily detectable in the powdered samples. Most importantly, however, this sample preparation method results in the loss of the textural features and context, making identification of potential fossilized microbial remains more problematic. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.