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Calibration of the Mars Science Laboratory Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer


The alpha-particle X-ray spectrometer (APXS) for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission was calibrated for routine analysis of: Na, Mg, Al, Si, P, S, Cl, K, Ca, Ti, Cr, Mn, Fe, Ni, Zn, Br, Rb, Sr, and Y. The following elements were also calibrated, but may be too low to be measured (10s–100s ppm) for their usual abundance on Mars: V, Cu, Ga, As, Se and W. An extensive suite of geological reference materials, supplemented by pure chemical elements and compounds was used. Special attention was paid to include phyllosilicates, sulfates and a broad selection of basalts as these are predicted minerals and rocks at the Gale Crater landing site. The calibration approach is from first principles, using fundamental physics parameters and an assumed homogeneous sample matrix to calculate expected elemental signals for a given instrument setup and sample composition. Resulting concentrations for most elements accord with expected values. Deviations in elements of lower atomic number (Na, Mg, Al) indicate significant influences of mineral phases, especially in basalts, ultramafic rocks and trachytes. The systematics of these deviations help us to derive empirical, iterative corrections for different rock groups, based on a preliminary APXS analysis which assumes a homogeneous sample. These corrections have the potential to significantly improve the accuracy of APXS analyses, especially when other MSL instrument results, such as the X-ray diffraction data from CheMin, are included in the overall analysis process.

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This work was financially supported by the Canadian Space Agency and the Ontario Centres of Excellence (PLK, RG, JLC). The assistance of E. Nield in data analysis was greatly appreciated. The paper benefited greatly from excellent in-depth reviews by two anonymous referees.

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Correspondence to John L. Campbell.

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Campbell, J.L., Perrett, G.M., Gellert, R. et al. Calibration of the Mars Science Laboratory Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer. Space Sci Rev 170, 319–340 (2012).

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  • Mars
  • MSL
  • APXS
  • Calibration
  • Geochemical analysis