X-ray photochemical alteration of planetary samples during in situ micro-XRF analysis
Abstract:PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry; selected for the Mars 2020 mission contact science payload) uses a polycapillary to focus X-rays to a ~100 µm spot on sample surfaces, providing higher spatial resolution, higher X-ray flux, and higher fluorescence counts compared to previously flown planetary XRF instruments. Photochemical changes in organic materials occurring during investigations employing x-rays have been reported, particularly for biological samples examined in synchrotrons (e.g. George et al., J. Synchrotron Radiation, 19:875-876). However, little is known about the effect energies and fluxes typical to micro-XRF instruments may have on the organic molecules that are commonly preserved in rocks and sediments. In particular, it is essential to understand the effect of micro-XRF on organics preserved near surfaces that are later subjected to contact science that focuses on organic geochemistry (e.g. UV Raman/fluorescence instruments).
We report results of an investigation in which samples containing organic molecules were exposed to X-ray energies and fluxes typical to micro-XRF. Samples containing alkanes and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were characterized by GC-MS and UV Raman/fluorescence before being subjected to various X-ray energies and fluxes typical of PIXL. Following x-ray irradiation, samples were again characterized by GC-MS and UV Raman/fluorescence in order to characterize photochemical effects.