2004 Annual Science Report
SETI Institute Reporting | JUL 2003 – JUN 2004
Planetary Biology, Evolution and Intelligence
Friedemann Freund and Lynn Rothschild are investigating oxidation driven by diffusive loss of hydrogen formed within igneous and metamorphic rocks. New data include the observation of oxygen evolution from magnesium oxide crystals.
Emma Bakes is completing a paper describing the chemical foundations of nitrogenated macromolecules in Titan’s haze. This work is complemented by laboratory work by Bishun Khare and Hiroshi Imanaka.
Janice Bishop and Rothschild have measured ultraviolet (UV), visible, and infrared (IR) spectra for iron-oxide-bearing samples, and experiments have been performed on cultures of two photosynthetic microorganisms. Data indicate that certain ferric-oxide-bearing minerals could have provided protection from UV radiation on early Earth.
Nathalie Cabrol and Edmond Grin have led a series of investigations of high-altitude lakes to examine the strategies employed by their microorganisms. The group they lead is currently analyzing data from its 2003 expedition. Discoveries include an active community of modern stromatolites and the culture and phylogenetic characterization of apparently new bacterial species.
Amos Banin has begun the analysis of soil samples from the Atacama Desert. Rocco Mancinelli and Banin are experimentally investigating whether binding of N as NH4+ in silicate minerals could account for the “missing” N on Mars.
David Summers and Bishun Khare have begun experimental work on the abiotic fixation of nitrogen under atmosphere expected on early Mars.
Cynthia Phillips and Christopher Chyba are completing a major project, using Galileo imaging of Europa, to quantify the impact cratering “gardening” rate on Europa.
These results will be coupled with the results of low-temperature laboratory experiments. Mr. Kevin Hand, in collaboration with Robert Carlson and Chyba, is pursuing this research at JPL. Over the past year, Hand and Carlson have constructed the irradiation apparatus and have experiments underway.
Max Bernstein, in his lab at NASA Ames, has measured the mid-IR spectra of several polycyclic aromatic nitrogen heterocycles.
Peter Backus, Jill Tarter, Mancinelli, and Chyba have begun their examination of the prospects that planets orbiting dwarf M stars are habitable for either microscopic or complex life.
Finally, education and public outreach are major and integral parts of the work of the SETI Institute’s NAI team. They are addressed elsewhere in our first-year summary, so are not presented here.
PROJECT INVESTIGATORS:Chris Chyba
Project InvestigatorPeter Backus
PROJECT MEMBERS:Taylor Bucci
RELATED OBJECTIVES:Objective 1.2
Indirect and direct astronomical observations of extrasolar habitable planets
Outer Solar System exploration
Sources of prebiotic materials and catalysts
Earth's early biosphere
Foundations of complex life
Environment-dependent, molecular evolution in microorganisms
Biochemical adaptation to extreme environments
Environmental changes and the cycling of elements by the biota, communities, and ecosystems
Adaptation and evolution of life beyond Earth
Biosignatures to be sought in Solar System materials
Biosignatures to be sought in nearby planetary systems