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2004 Annual Science Report

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Reporting  |  JUL 2003 – JUN 2004

Development Advanced Methods for the in Situ Analysis of Complex Organics in Small Bodies in the Solar System

4 Institutions
3 Teams
0 Publications
0 Field Sites
Field Sites

Project Progress

Theme 4 of the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) Astrobiology Node develops advanced methods for the in situ analysis of complex organics in small bodies in the solar system. Investigators are presently participating in proposals to NASA for flyby, rendezvous, and sample return missions to comets. In each of these missions, an important focus is on the analysis of complex organic molecules that may have played a role in terrestrial prebiotic chemistry; mass spectrometer or gas chromatograph mass spectrometer investigations are included in each of these mission proposals.

Development of advanced organic analysis techniques has been initiated, including: techniques of laser desorption mass spectrometry; pyrolysis mass spectrometry; and solvent extraction of organic molecules followed by chemical derivatization. In the initial stages of this work a variety of Mars analog materials such as Atacama soils, Hawaii basalts, and meteoritic samples have been used for a cross comparison of techniques. Some of these materials also serve as cometary analogs and the chemistries developed may be relevant for future cometary research.

Initial analyses of carbonaceous chondrites and simple carbon-matrix standards with laser desorption methods have contributed to a developing database of refractory macromolecular materials that may be present in comets and other small bodies. This database should lead to increased understanding of (i) parent body synthesis and processing; (ii) impact survival of more fragile compounds; and (iii) enhanced in situ protocols for determining the full breadth of cometary organics.

Theme IV is presently supporting a postdoctoral research associate Arnaud Buch who, together with a new civil service employee, Danny Glavin, are pursuing chemical derivatization techniques.

    Paul Mahaffy Paul Mahaffy
    Project Investigator
    Objective 7.1
    Biosignatures to be sought in Solar System materials