February 9, 2009 The Mars Organic Analyzer, fresh from seeking evidence of life on the red planet, has taken a new job to assist life on Earth. The MOA has been modified by researchers in California to detect potentially carcinogenic molecules, providing valuable information in environmental cleanup sites.

The MOA is programmed to distinguish polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – air pollutants including cigarette smoke, wood smoke, and volcanic ash. On other planets they might indicate potential for life, but on Earth they have a contrary reputation.

Researchers tested samples from Lake Erie, a hydrothermal vent from the Gulf of California, and the Atacama Desert, noting that the MOA’s detection sensitivity was equal to current laboratory methods.

The report by Richard A. Mathies and colleagues appeared in the January 15 issue of ACS’ semi-monthly journal Analytical Chemistry.

Kyle Sherer