Mars Spectrometry: Detect Evidence for Past Habitability Hosted By NASA



Mass spectrometers are now, and will continue to be, a key instrument for missions searching for life and habitability on other planets.

— Victoria Da Poian, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Data Scientist & Engineer


Did Mars ever have livable environmental conditions? NASA missions like the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers carry a rich array of instruments that can collect data — such as the chemical makeup of rock and soil samples — to help build evidence around this question.

However, these instruments cannot currently analyze samples automatically. This capability could help missions to guide science operations, reduce reliance on "ground-in-the-loop" analysis, and prioritize transmission over increasingly long distances.

The Solution

The goal of this research challenge was to to build a model to automatically analyze mass spectrometry data collected for Mars exploration. Models were tasked with detecting certain families of chemical compounds that are of scientific interest in analyzing conditions for past habitability.

Data came from evolved gas analysis (EGA) peformed by standard commercial instruments as well as test bed samples replicating the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite onboard the Curiosity rover.

The Results

The winning solution achieved a leaderboard-topping log loss score (lower is better) of 0.092 and average precision (higher is better) of 0.95. Below is an example of this model in action, analyzing the left sample and generating the predictions on the right:

Example sample.
basalt 0.008567
carbonate 0.006417
chloride 0.010731
iron_oxide 0.940646
oxalate 0.003044
oxychlorine 0.996400
phyllosilicate   0.991668
silicate 0.010867
sulfate 0.008285
sulfide 0.004359
Note: compounds in blue were present in the sample.

What's more, this model also won the bonus prize for best performance and potential for future implementation for analysis of a smaller, noisier subset of the data. This subset, from the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) testbed, more closely resembles samples that are collected by the Curiosity rover directly from the surface of Mars.

See the results announcement for more information on all the prize-winning approaches. These solutions are shared openly for anyone to use and learn from.