Fortunately, not all material has been heavily processed. Comets and asteroids represent largely unprocessed material remnant from the early solar system and they a represented on Earth by meteorites and interplanetary dust particles (IDPs). Furthermore, telescopic studies of the birth places of other solar systems allow researchers to simulate those environments in the laboratory so that we may characterize the organic material produced.
Like forensic crime shows, the Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory employs commercial analytical instruments. However, ours are configured and optimized for small organics of astrobiological interest instead of blood, clothing, etc.
Mass Spectrometer: This mass spectrometer (MS) is coupled to one of the Liquid Chromatographs below. This is a time of flight (ToF) MS with a electrospray (ESI), corona ionization (APCI), or photochemical ionization (APPI) sources. It is used to generate accurate mass spectra to determine the molecular formula of an analyte. Both positive and negative spectra can be taken from a single injection. Analytical Liquid Chromatograph: This ultra high precision liquid chromatograph (UHPLC) is equipped a UV-Visible diode array and UV fluorescence detectors. This LC serves as the primary inlet to the above MS for LCMS (HPLC+MS). Nanoflow Liquid Chromatograph: This LC allows nano-flow (100 nL/min) ESI LCMS at much higher sensitivity than analytical HPLC. Laser Induced Fluorescence Detector: This laser induced fluorescence detector (LIF) allows for fluorescence detection at nanoflow rates. Mass Spectrometer: This mass spectrometer (MS) is coupled to the Liquid Chromatograph below. This is a tandem quadrupole (QqQ) MS with a electrospray (ESI) or corona ionization (APCI) sources. While less sensitive and precise than the ToF, it generates fragmentation patters (MS/MS) to elucidate the chemical structure of an analyte. Like the ToF, both positive and negative spectra can be taken from a single injection. Analytical Liquid Chromatograph: This high precision liquid chromatograph (HPLC) is equipped a UV-Visible diode array and UV fluorescence detectors. This HPLC serves as the primary inlet to the above MS for LCMS (HPLC+MS). Analytical Liquid Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer: This mass spectrometer is coupled to another UHPLC. This is a Fourier Transform (FTMS) MS with the same sources as above. It has superior mass resolution of the two mass spectrometers above.
Gas Chromatograph/Mass Spectrometer: This GC-MS is identical to the one above but it is fitted with a reaction furnaces to feed the IRMS. It is used to separate a mixture of organic compounds and simultaneously measure their fragmentation pattern and combust or reduce the separated species to be analyzed by the IRMS.
Elemental Analyzers: The TC/EA and EA are used to convert a small quantiaty of pure standard into H2 and CO (TC/EA) or CO2 and N2 (EA) to feed the IRMS. Bulk C/N ratios can also be measured.