12 items with the tag “mars

  • Water and Habitability of Mars and the Moon and Antarctica
    NAI 2013 University of Hawaii, Manoa Annual Report

    Water plays an important role in shaping the crusts of the Earth and Mars, and now we know it is present inside the Moon and on its surface. We are assessing the water budgets and total inventories on the Moon and Mars by analyzing samples from these bodies.

    We also study local concentrations of water ice on the Moon, Mars, and at terrestrial analogue sites such as Antarctica and Mauna Kea, Hawaii. We are particularly interested in how local phenomena or microclimates enable ice to form and persist in areas that are otherwise free of ice, such as cold traps on the Moon, tropical craters with permafrost, and ice caves in tropical latitudes. We approach these problems with field studies, modeling, and data analysis. We also develop new instruments and exploration methods to characterize these sites. Several of the terrestrial field sites have only recently become available for scientific exploration.

    HI-SEAS (Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, hi-seas.org) is a small habitat at a Mars analog site in the saddle area of the Island of Hawaii. It is a venue for conducting research relevant to long-duration human space exploration. We have just completed our first four-month long mission, and are preparing for three more, of four, eight and twelve months in length. The habitat is a 36’ geodesic dome, with about 1000 square feet of floor space over two stories. It is a low-impact temporary structure that can accommodate six crewmembers, and has a kitchen, a laboratory, and a flexible workspace. Although it is not airtight, the habitat does have simulated airlock, and crew-members don mockup EVA suits before going outside. The site is a disused quarry on the side of a cinder/splatter cone, surrounded by young lava fields. There is almost no human activity or plant life visible from the habitat, making it ideal for ICE (isolated/confined/extreme) research.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 2.1 3.1 5.3 6.1 6.2 7.1
  • Origin of Earth’s Water
    NAI 2013 University of Hawaii, Manoa Annual Report

    Understanding the sources and delivery mechanisms of water to the Earth and the other terrestrial planets allows for the validation of planetary accretion models. This information can help us establish at what time the Earth contained sufficient water for the development of life. A key parameter in determining the source(s) of terrestrial planetary water is the hydrogen isotope composition of this water. However, hydrogen fractionation during surface and atmospheric processes on terrestrial planets such as Earth and Mars may have significantly changed the Deuterium/Hydrogen (D/H) ratio in the various water reservoirs. Therefore, to determine the primordial D/H ratio of these planets water we must find reservoirs that has been unaffected by surface processes. Plate tectonics is known to drag surface water down into the crust and the upper mantle, but the transition zone and lower mantle are thought to be uncontaminated by surface water. Therefore, we aimed to sample terrestrial hydrous minerals and melt inclusions sourced from these uncontaminated regions, such as deep mantle plume samples from Iceland and Baffin Island, along with possible deep mantle diamond inclusions. As plate tectonics never developed on Mars, the primary igneous hydrous minerals in martian meteroites were assumed to be isolated from martian surface processes. We analyzed the D/H ratio of these samples using the Cameca ims 1280 ionmicroprobe at the University of Hawaii to produce a dataset that establishes the primordial D/H ratio of Earth and Mars.

    To gain insights into the amount of water present in terrestrial planetary mantle material we synthesized samples of high-pressure mineral phases that are likely hosts for H, and thus water, in planetary interiors. We measured the physical properties of these minerals, including crystal structure, density, elasticity, and electrical conductivity, to investigate the degree to which water may be incorporated into these minerals in the Earth’s mantle.

    Models of terrestrial planet formation have been successful in producing terrestrial-class planets with sizes in the range of Venus and Earth. However, these models have generally failed to produce Mars-sized objects. The body that is usually formed around Mars’ semimajor axis is, in general, much more massive than Mars. We have developed new model for the formation of Mars in which a local depletion in the density of the protosolar nebula results in a non-uniform formation of embryos and ultimately the formation of Mars-sized planets.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 4.1
  • Habitability, Biosignatures, and Intelligence
    NAI 2013 University of Hawaii, Manoa Annual Report

    Understanding the nature and distribution of habitable environments in the Universe is one of the primary goals of astrobiology. Based on the only example of life we know, we have devel-oped various concepts to predict, detect, and investigate habitability, biosignatures and intelli-gence occurrence in the near-solar environment. In particular, we are searching for water vapor in atmospheres of extrasolar planets and protoplanets, developing techniques for remote detec-tion of photosynthetic organisms on other planets, have detected a possible bio-chemistry sig-nature in Martian clays contemporary with early life on Earth, developed a comprehensive methodology and an interactive website for calculating habitable zones in binary stellar systems, expanded on definitions of habitable zones in the Milky way Galaxy, and proposed a novel ap-proach for searching extraterrestrial intelligence.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 1.2 2.2 3.1 3.2 4.1 4.2 6.2 7.1 7.2
  • Astrobiology in Icy Extraterrestrial Environments
    NAI 2013 NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Annual Report

    Scientists in the Cosmic Ice Laboratory with the Goddard Center for Astrobiology (GCA) study the formation and stability of molecules under conditions found in outer space. In the past year, studies of amino-acid destruction were continued, a project on the formation of sulfate ions was completed (related to Europa), measurements of the infrared band strengths were published for application to the outer Solar System, and the formation and chemistry of a particularly-versatile interstellar molecule were investigated. All of this work is part of the Comic Ice Laboratory’s continuing contributions to understanding the chemistry of biologically-related molecules and chemical reactions in extra-terrestrial environments.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 2.2 3.1 7.1 7.2
  • Advancing Methods for the Analyses of Organic Molecules in Sediments
    NAI 2013 NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Annual Report

    Eigenbrode’s research focuses on understanding the formation and preservation of organic and isotopic sedimentary records of ancient Earth and Mars. To this end, and as part of GCA’s Theme IV effort, Eigenbrode seeks to overcome sampling and analytical challenges associated with organic analyses of samples relevant to astrobiology. She modifies and develops methods of contamination tracking, sampling, and analysis (primarily gas chromatography mass spectrometry, GCMS) that improve the recovery of meaningful observations and provide protocol guidance for future astrobiological missions.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 2.2 7.1
  • Remote Sensing of Organic Volatiles on Mars and Modeling of Cometary Atmospheres
    NAI 2013 NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Annual Report

    Using our newly developed analytical routines, Villanueva reported the most comprehensive search for trace species on Mars (Villanueva et al. 2013b, Icarus) and described in detail the chemical taxonomy of comets C/2001 Q4 and C/2002 T7 (de Val-Borro et al. 2013). He expanded our already comprehensive high-resolution spectroscopic database to include billions of spectral lines of ammonia (NH3, Villanueva et al. 2013a), hydrogen cyanide (HCN, Villanueva et al. 2013a, Lippi et al. 2013), hydrogen isocyanide (HNC, Villanueva et al. 2013a), cyanoacetylene (HC3N, Villanueva et al. 2013a), monodeuterated methane (CH3D, Gibb et al. 2013), and methanol (CH3OH, DiSanti et al. 2013). For each species, he developed improved or new fluorescence models using the new spectral models. These permit unprecedented improvement in models of absorption spectra in planetary atmospheres (Earth, Mars), and in computing fluorescence cascades for emission spectra of cometary gases pumped by solar radiation. Villanueva utilized these new models in analyzing spectra of comets that enabled record observations of CO in comet 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann-1 (see report by Paganini), revealed the unusual organic composition of comet 2P/Encke (see report by Mumma), developed new fluorescence models for the ν2 band of methanol and for the ν3 band of CH3D in comets (see reports by DiSanti and by Bonev), and discovered two modes of water release in comet 103P/Hartley-2 (see report by Bonev).

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 2.1 3.1 3.2 4.1 7.1
  • Taphonomy, Curiosity and Missions to Mars
    NAI 2013 Massachusetts Institute of Technology Annual Report

    MIT team members are actively involved in both the continuing MER and new MSL missions to Mars. Team members are also collaborating on research designed to provide ground truth for remotely sensed clay mineral identifications on Mars, exploring, as well, the relationship between clay mineralogy and organic carbon preservation in sedimentary rocks. For example, our team has been exploring the use of reflectance spectroscopy, which is a rapid, non-destructive technique, for assessing the presence and abundance of organic materials preserved in ancient rocks. Sumner chairs the Gale Mapping Working Group, which is producing geomorphic and geologic maps of the landing area and lower slopes of Mt. Sharp in Gale Crater. This map is being used for long-term planning of science campaigns for Curiosity as well as to put observations into a regional context.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 4.1 4.2 6.1 7.1
  • Project 5: Vistas of Early Mars: In Preparation for Sample Return
    NAI 2013 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Annual Report

    To understand the history of life in the solar system requires knowledge of how hydrous minerals form on planetary surfaces, and the role minerals may play in the development of potential life forms. The minerals hematite and jarosite have been identified on Mars and presented as in situ evidence for aqueous activity. This project seeks to understand (i) the conditions required for jarosite and hematite formation and preservation on planetary surfaces, and (ii) the conditions under which their “radiometric clocks” can be reset (e.g., during changes in environmental conditions such as temperature). By investigating the kinetics of noble gases in minerals, known to occur on Mars and Earth, we will be prepared to analyze and properly interpret ages measured on samples from future Mars sample return missions.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 2.1 7.1
  • Habitability of Water-Rich Environments, Task 4: Evaluate the Habitability of Ancient Aqueous Solutions on Mars
    NAI 2013 Arizona State University Annual Report

    Co-I Farmer explored for past habitable environments on Mars as part of the MSL (Curiosity) team. He also participated in efforts to develop new life detection instruments for in situ astro-biological exploration of Mars, and documented lipid bio-signature preservation in siliceous hydrothermal deposits.

    Co-I Zolotov developed chemical weathering models for Mars. He argued that formation of salts and phyllo-silicates in the Noachian epoch was followed by aqueous mobilization and deposition of neutral salts in the Hesperian epoch. This hypothesis implies the occurrence of sulfate-saturated subsurface waters during a prolonged time after the formation of phyllo-silicates.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1
  • Developing New Biosignatures
    NAI 2013 Pennsylvania State University Annual Report

    The development and experimental testing of potential indicators of life is essential for providing a critical scientific basis for the exploration of life in the cosmos. In microbial cultures, potential new biosignatures can be found among isotopic ratios, elemental compositions, and chemical changes to the growth media. Additionally, life can be detected and investigated in natural systems by directing cutting-edge instrumentation towards the investigation of microbial cells, microbial fossils, and microbial geochemical products. Over the next five years, we will combine our geomicrobiological expertise and on-going field-based environmental investigations with a new generation of instruments capable of revealing diagnostic biosignatures. Our efforts will focus on creating innovative approaches for the analyses of cells and other organic material, finding ways in which metal abundances and isotope systems reflect life, and developing creative approaches for using environmental DNA to study present and past life.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 3.1 4.1 5.1 7.1
  • Understanding the Early Mars Environment
    NAI 2013 VPL at University of Washington Annual Report

    There is no liquid water on modern Mars, although there is plenty of solid ice. Observations from orbiting satellites and rovers on the ground suggest that liquid water may have flowed over the Martian surface in the distant past. VPL researchers are studying the geologic record of Mars for clues of past water, and investigating climate and chemical conditions under which water would be stable. Team members examined different climate feedbacks and geochemical processes that could have warmed the early Mars. Some members are also active members of the MSL science team.

    This year, team members used climate and interior models to demonstrated that broadening of carbon dioxide and water absorption by volcanically-released hydrogen in Mars early atmosphere may have been enough to raise the mean surface temperature of early Mars above the freezing point of water. We also looked for mechanisms that might have produced the abundant perchlorate molecule found on the Martian surface today.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 2.1
  • Exoplanet Detection and Characterization: Observations
    NAI 2013 VPL at University of Washington Annual Report

    In this task, VPL researchers use astronomical instrumentation to detect and measure the properties of exoplanets. They also study terrestrial planets in our Solar System that can serve as practice targets for exoplanet observational techniques. These observations help us to develop and understand the techniques and measurements required to learn about planetary environments. Although many of these observations are now made on planets that are too large, or too close to their stars to be habitable, once proven, these techniques can then be adapted to help characterize the smaller, cooler planets that may be habitable.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.2 2.2 7.2