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2004 Annual Science Report

SETI Institute Reporting  |  JUL 2003 – JUN 2004

Planetary Biology, Evolution and Intelligence

4 Institutions
3 Teams
0 Publications
0 Field Sites
Field Sites

Project Progress

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.

    Chris Chyba Chris Chyba
    Project Investigator
    Peter Backus Peter Backus
    Emma Bakes Emma Bakes
    Amos Banin Amos Banin
    Max Bernstein Max Bernstein
    Janice Bishop Janice Bishop
    Nathalie Cabrol Nathalie Cabrol
    Edna DeVore Edna DeVore
    Friedemann Freund Friedemann Freund
    Edmond Grin Edmond Grin
    Bishun Khare Bishun Khare
    Rocco Mancinelli Rocco Mancinelli
    Cynthia Phillips Cynthia Phillips
    Lynn Rothschild Lynn Rothschild
    David Summers David Summers
    Jill Tarter Jill Tarter
    Taylor Bucci
    Unspecified Role

    Brenda Simmons
    Unspecified Role

    Objective 1.2
    Indirect and direct astronomical observations of extrasolar habitable planets

    Objective 2.1
    Mars exploration

    Objective 2.2
    Outer Solar System exploration

    Objective 3.1
    Sources of prebiotic materials and catalysts

    Objective 4.1
    Earth's early biosphere

    Objective 4.2
    Foundations of complex life

    Objective 5.1
    Environment-dependent, molecular evolution in microorganisms

    Objective 5.3
    Biochemical adaptation to extreme environments

    Objective 6.1
    Environmental changes and the cycling of elements by the biota, communities, and ecosystems

    Objective 6.2
    Adaptation and evolution of life beyond Earth

    Objective 7.1
    Biosignatures to be sought in Solar System materials

    Objective 7.2
    Biosignatures to be sought in nearby planetary systems