Near infrared cavity ring-down spectroscopy for isotopic analyses of CH4 on future Martian surface missions

Y. Chen, P. Mahaffy, V. Holmes, J. Burris, P. Morey, K. K. Lehmann, B. Sherwood Lollar, G. Lacrampe-Couloume, Tullis C. Onstott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


A compact Near Infrared Continuous Wave Cavity Ring-down Spectrometer (near-IR-cw-CRDS) was developed as a candidate for future planetary surface missions. The optical cavity was made of titanium with rugged quartz windows to protect the delicate super cavity from the harsh environmental changes that it would experience during space flight and a Martian surface mission. This design assured the long-term stability of the system. The system applied three distributed feedback laser diodes (DFB-LD), two of which were tuned to the absorption line peaks of 12CH4 and 13CH4 at 6046.954 cm-1 and 6049.121 cm-1, respectively. The third laser was tuned to a spectral-lines-free region for measuring the baseline cavity loss. The multiple laser design compensated for typical baseline drift of a CRDS system and, thus, improved the overall precision. A semiconductor optical amplifier (SOA) was used instead of an Acousto-Optic Module (AOM) to initiate the cavity ring-down events. It maintained high acquisition rates such as AOM, but consumed less power. High data acquisition rates combined with improved long-term stability yielded precise isotopic measurements in this near-IR region even though the strongest CH4 absorption line in this region is 140 times weaker than that of the strongest mid-IR absorption band., The current system has a detection limit of 1.4×10-12 cm-1 for 13CH4. This limit corresponds to ~7 pptv of CH4 at 100 Torr. With no further improvements the detection limit of our current near IR-cw-CRDS at an ambient Martian pressure of ~6 Torr (8 mbar) would be 0.25 ppbv for one 3.3 minute long analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)117-122
Number of pages6
JournalPlanetary and Space Science
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Astrobiology
  • Mars sciences
  • Methane isotope
  • Portable NIR CRDS


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