From all the missions sent to the surface of Mars, do any of them have a microscope? If yes, then which one has the most powerful microscope? Is it capable of detecting microbes?


1 Answer 1


Having checked the older rovers, the highest resolution microscope on Mars is in the SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals) instrument. The main purpose of this instrument is the use of a laser to analyse rocks, looking for organic compounds. But it also has a macro camera (The Autofocus and Context Imager) for close-up inspection of what the laser was sampling.

The Autofocus and Context Imager has a resolution of 10.1 micrometers. By comparison most Earth bacteria are one to two micrometers, and the proposed "bacteria" in Martian meteorites were much smaller. There is also WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering) also has a camera. It is a colour camera with a resolution of about 15 micrometers.

It is no longer functional, but the Phoenix lander had an atomic force microscope. This works by scanning a silicone tip over a surface and measuring the force between the sample and the tip. It had a resolution of 0.1 micrometres, but it's not a visual light microscope and it would not be great for detecting microbes.

But "detecting microbes" is not done with a microscope. It is the chemical analysis of rocks that may provide evidence of ancient life. Thats what the "Raman & Luminescence" is all about.

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    $\begingroup$ The Phoenix lander had an atomic force microscope on it, with a resolution of 0.1 micrometers. However, as you say, it would not be great for detecting microbes. $\endgroup$
    – IronEagle
    Commented Apr 23, 2022 at 20:08
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    $\begingroup$ @IronEagle thanks, I've incorporated that. $\endgroup$
    – James K
    Commented Apr 23, 2022 at 20:18
  • $\begingroup$ What about the potentially existing microbes? Why they are so sure there are no existing microbes? Why they only look for ancient life and not for potential present life? $\endgroup$
    – Joe Jobs
    Commented Jun 24, 2022 at 5:00
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    $\begingroup$ @JoeJobs That's a great question and you can consider posting it as a new one. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Jun 24, 2022 at 12:56

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