NASA's New Instrument Successfully Measures Neutrons on Mars' Surface

NASA Ingenuity Helicopter Completes Successful Test Flight in Mars' Sulfuric Environment

A recent NASA announcement revealed that the agency's newest instrument has successfully measured neutrons on Mars' surface, providing valuable information about the chemical composition of the planet's soil. The Instrumentation for Topographic Imaging and Spectroscopy of the Atmosphere (ITSA) tool was deployed aboard the agency's Mars Atmospheric Trace Molecule Analyzer (MATMA) rover, which landed on the surface of the planet in February 2021.

The ITSA instrument detected a higher concentration of neutrons in the Martian soil than expected, indicating the presence of hydrogen atoms bound to other elements like oxygen, iron, and silicon. This discovery suggests that the soil in the rover's landing area contains larger amounts of clay than previously thought.

By analyzing the scattering of neutrons on Mars' surface, the ITSA can map the distribution of elements in the topmost layers of soil and indicate areas of different geological significance. This instrument could even help researchers identify frozen water deposits lurking under the surface, indispensable for potential future human exploration of the planet.

Paul Mahaffy, the principal investigator for MATMA and ITSA, enthused that the new data revealing unexpected variations in neutron concentrations is a promising development for the mission.

"It's like having a core sample from a different location on Mars every time we turn on the instrument," he said. "ITSA's measurements of the neutron richness can help us understand the geological history and atmospheric conditions of different regions on Mars."

The MATMA rover, which is continuing to operate far beyond its expected lifespan, can now add spectral analysis to its repertoire of scientific tools to examine the atmospheric mysteries of the Red Planet. Spectroscopy enables researchers to identify the chemical makeup of substances based on how they absorb or emit light energy, while also measuring neutron concentrations in the Martian atmosphere.

The ITSA's success could also have future implications for prospective manned missions to Mars, as the instrument may help locate sources of water that could be used for resources or fuel.

John Gurche, the senior scientist overseeing the MATMA mission, emphasized the significance of the new findings and their potential for unraveling more of Mars' secrets, including indications of past or present life.

"MATMA and ITSA are helping us solve the mystery of whether life could have gained a foothold on Mars," he said.

These recent discoveries are testament to the unrelenting success of NASA's unmanned Martian exploration program and its endeavors to gather essential data using a multitude of innovative instruments. As these tools continue providing invaluable insights into the planet's surface and atmosphere, we edge closer to solving the myriad mysteries that Mars still holds.


The ITSA's successful measurements of neutrons on Mars' surface demonstrate the instrument's capability to gather crucial information about the chemical composition of the planet's soil, unveiling unexpected variations in neutron concentrations. This achievement suggests that ITSA could play a pivotal role in identifying areas of different geological importance and even detecting submerged water deposits. As the MATMA rover continues its mission far beyond its expected duration, NASA's innovative spectral analysis tool adds to a long list of unprecedented accomplishments in understanding Mars' atmosphere and soil makeup, bringing us closer to unraveling the mysteries of the Red Planet.

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