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2006 Annual Science Report

University of Hawaii, Manoa Reporting  |  JUL 2005 – JUN 2006

Executive Summary

Water is the medium in which the chemistry of all life on Earth takes place. Water is the habitat in which life first emerged and in which all of it still thrives. Water has modified Earth’s geology and climate to a degree that has allowed life to persist to the present epoch. We propose to create a research and education framework that links the biological, chemical, geological, and astronomical sciences to better understand the origin, history, distribution, and role of water as it relates to life in the universe. We focus on scenarios involving the sources and distribution of water in planetary systems and the delivery and incorporation of water into rocky planets that orbit within stellar habitable zones. Our framework connects research on major aspects of planetary water — in effect we aim to understand the terms of a “watery Drake equation”. Sub-themes of our research include:

  • Water is formed in the interstellar medium and in the denser molecular clouds that give rise to star-forming regions. Differences in elemental abundance, gas-phase chemistry, and grain chemistry will result in measurable variation in the abundance of water in those regions. Our team will use sub-millimeter and infrared facilities to quantify the presence of water ice in the interstellar clouds, and to characterize and understand the environments where water exists in space.
  • Comet ices preserve a chemical record of this precursor interstellar material, and detailed remote measurements of the isotopes of hydrogen in these icy bodies has shown that comets contributed some, but not all of the water to the Earth’s oceans. Comets are also rich in the organic materials which are essential for life on Earth, and team members will investigate the inventory of both organics and ices in these small outer solar system denizens: comets, Centaurs and Kuiper Belt objects.
  • Because of the high abundance of water ice in the interstellar medium, water has played a vital role in physical and chemical processes which have lead to the formation of astrobiologically important molecules. UH NAI team members will perform cutting-edge laboratory chemistry experiments to address the questions of how the basic life ingredients can be formed abiotically in extraterrestrial environments such as molecular clouds and the crucial role that water has played in their formation, and to understand the physical processes.
  • UH NAI team will use lab equipment to study the minerals in meteorites which formed as a result of interaction with liquid water early in the solar system. These minerals preserve a record of aqueous activity in their parent bodies that provides information about the abundance and distribution of water in the primordial solar nebula. The meteorites record the incorporation of water into silicate material in the primordial Solar System as an early step in its eventual inclusion in larger bodies, including planets. The cosmochemical record in meteorites shows that a large range of water abundance existed in the early Solar System, perhaps as a result of removal of water from the warm interior of the primordial nebula.
  • Mars is the planet most resembling Earth, it contains unambiguous evidence for the activity of past and present water, and is probably the most likely to host or have hosted extant or extinct life. Studies of the history and action of water on Mars are thus of great importance in this regard. Our studies will model the hydrothermal and low-temperature alteration of crustal minerals and rocks by water, and team members will combine this with data from Earth observations and recent Mars missions to assess the Mars water inventory and its habitability.
  • Water has been involved in life since its first appearance on early Earth. Leading life origin theories invoke prebiotic chemistry in low-temperature aqueous solutions, supplied with prebiotic molecules by atmospheric chemistry, or in the hydrothermal brines produced by high-temperature water-rock interactions. The first 3 Gy of life on this planet was played out entirely in aquatic environments. Water is also involved in geochemical reactions that maintain surface conditions permissive of life. The presence of water significantly alters the properties of minerals in Earth’s crust and mantle, something crucial to the operation of plate tectonics. We are investigating the water-rock chemistry in the deep oceans and its relation to habitats for life. The reaction between silicate rocks and water, at high temperature (submarine hot springs near mid ocean ridges), produces aqueous fluids and altered mineral surfaces whose thermodynamic disequilibria are potential energy sources for life.
  • Besides water, life also requires a source of carbon and nutrients, and an environment that is conducive to the propagation of genetic information. Many aquatic environments on Earth are extreme from this point of view. By studying these we can better understand what may limit the origin and persistence of life in aquatic habitats elsewhere in the universe. These extreme environments include lava-water interfaces in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park as the magma from Kilaeua flows into the ocean, as well as steam geysers, high altitude, and field work in volcanically active Iceland. We will focus here on a comparative study of microbial biodiversity and metabolic activity in these extreme aquatic habitats.
  • We will develop an integrated model of planetary water and its early history on Earth-like planets, which can be used to explore the time-evolution of water on the early Earth, as well as Earth-size planets whose space environment or composition differ from Earth’s. Extraterrestrial aquatic environments may be far more extreme than most encountered on Earth. Water inventories and cycles in Earth-sized planets around other stars may be quite different from our own. Planetary water abundance may be a very sensitive function of the chemistry in the planet-forming nebula, the water abundance in that nebula, the presence of giant planets and factors such as ultraviolet radiation from the central star.
  • Finally, we will develop concepts and prototype hardware for instruments that could be used to detect and characterize life on other planetary bodies. By developing and testing models and exploring the outcomes of alternative scenarios we seek to determine what controls the abundance and distribution of water and hypothetical aqueous habitats in other planetary systems. This research will directly support the NASA search for past or present life on Mars and efforts (such as the NASA Terrestrial Planet Finder) to directly detect and characterize Earth-sized exoplanets.


Science Highlights

  • Equipment & Infrastructure — Team members lead by G. Huss and K. Keil are in the process of setting up the Keck Cosmochemistry laboratory, using highly leveraged funds to set up a new state of the art ion microprobe laboratory. In conjunction with this lab, NAI funds are being matched against University of Hawaii support to provide a confocal Raman microscope capability. This non-destructive technique will be used to study insoluble organic matter in extraterrestrial materials, shock effects in meteorites and terrestrial materials, as well as a large number of other projects within the team and by others at the University of Hawaii. Team member S. Anderson is leading a major instrumentation development for flight instrumentation for in-situ geochronology and mass spectrometry. UHNAI postdoctoral fellow B. Glazer has been developing equipment for deep sea biosphere sampling and remote in-situ measurements. Team member B. Reipurth has been setting up twin 16-inch telescopes in Hawaii and Chile to monitor all star forming regions in the galactic plan to understand variability in young stars. Although the equipment was funded elsewhere, Reipurth has been developing software for the system. During year 8 we have improved our experimental apparatus for ultra-high vacuum ice irradiation experiments with the addition of an FTIR spectrometer (W. Zheng and R. Kaiser).
  • Expeditions and field work — Our team fielded two expeditions in Iceland during June 2006. The first, a collaboration between E. Gaidos and Th. Thorsteinsson (of the National Energy Authority of Iceland) involved hot water drilling through 300m of glacial ice to sample a sub-glacial lake under the Vatnajokull ice cap. Subglacial lakes are the focus of studies of life in extreme environments because they may resemble habitats on Mars and icy satellites in the outer solar system. The second Icelandic field operation involved a seed project to look at the origin of Earth’s water, by searching for signatures of primitive water on Earth contained in inclusions in rocks bringing up deep mantle material. Rocks from twelve volcanic sites in Iceland were acquired. Team member J. Cowen is a member of the rapid response team to look at sub-ocean volcanic eruptions to asses the microbial and geochemical changes associated with the seafloor eruptions. The UH team fielded 3 researchers to respond to an eruption on the East Pacific Rise. During a cruise to Juan de Fuca in September 2005, Glazer’s equipment was deployed and tested using the deep manned submersible, DSV Alvin. In order to understand the possible effect of impact shock metamorphism might have in masking spectral signatures of aqueous products on Mars, samples were collected by Postdoctoral Fellow K. Stockstill from the Sierra Madera impact structure, to evaluate their thermal emission spectra.
  • In conjunction with the project lead by M. Brown to look at Hawaiian lava tube ecology, data loggers and weather stations were deployed in 3 caves on the big island of Hawaii during the spring 2006, along with sample collection.
  • Astronomy — Lead by A. Delsanti, team members are conducting spectroscopic searches for evidence of hydrated silicates in Kuiper Belt Objects as an indication that these bodies may have experienced higher temperatures than their distances from the sun would indicate. Spectroscopic observations are also looking for the signature of crystalline ice in these bodies which would also have implications for heating in the outer solar system. In contrast, it had been long believed that ice would not currently be present in small bodies as close to the sun as the asteroid belt, yet D. Jewitt and H. Hseih have discovered comets in the main asteroid belt. This is leading to a new survey for these objects conducted by NAI team members. Finally, analysis of the Deep Impact event and pre-impact target has resulted in new insights into the surface properties of small icy bodies. While the comets and small bodies may be the left-over fingerprints of the solar system accretion process, team members J. Keane and J. Williams are undertaking a more direct examination of the disk chemistry by using ground and space telescopes to measure the evolution of ice and gas in star forming regions. In an indirect attempt to detect extrasolar planetary systems, Postdoctoral Fellow E. Shkolnik was looking for the H3+ ion as a marker for the presence of gas giant planets in nearby star systems, and in a second project was looking at the modulation of the structure of absorption lines in stellar atmospheres as an indication of planet-induced stellar heating.
  • Solar System Formation: Modeling — Postdoctoral Fellow N. Haghighipour is investigating several areas of solar system formation and habitability via dynamical modeling techniques, in collaboration with other team members. This includes investigation of the formation of the parent bodies of iron meteorites, investigation of the early stages of planet formation (e.g. the accumulation of grains to km-sized objects), an investigation of the stability of terrestrial planets in binary star systems, and a project to look at the dynamical stability of irregular satellites which will give insights into outer planet formation.
  • Mars Science – Several areas of research within our team are looking at placing limits on the duration of aqueous alteration events on Mars, and the stability of ice in sublimation environments on Mars, the Moon and in Antarctica. These investigations are combining modeling with laboratory data, meteorite data and space mission observations. Ice may exist in permanently shadowed lunar craters, and models are being undertaken to study the migration and longevity of ice on the Moon.
  • Biology — Postdoctoral fellow A. Boal has been leading a project to develop a molecular level understanding of how biomolecular structure allows microorganisms to adapt to extreme aqueous environments by looking for specific protein motifs that allow for protein stability, and hence organism stability in these environments. Other work by Postdoctoral fellow M. Brown has been looking at microbial bio-geography to look at variability in marine species and the relationship of their adaptation to the local environment. In a second project an investigation of microbial biogeochemistry is being undertaken using samples from Hawaiian lava tubes where the temperature, pH and nutrient availability may be analogous to environments on Early Earth where water availability is largely due to condensation from heated groundwater. E. Gaidos has begun and investigation on the characterization of the animal phylum Placozoa which contains a single species, phylogenetically placed at the most deeply branching lineage of animals. It is hoped that the investigation of this organism can shed insight on the emergence of multicellular life.
  • Biogeochemistry — Team members M. Mottl and J. Cowen have been ultramafic environments within the seafloor in the forearc of the Mariana subduction system to understand the chemistry in these regions and the byproducts formed which can fuel microbial activity. These types of wet environments may be promising habitats for extraterrestrial life.
  • Computer sciences — Team member K. Binsted has been working with team members on innovative computational astrobiology tool development which can be made available to the NAI community. Projects include new software for automation of reduction of data, including the development of on-board software for field deployment, development of databases and genetic algorithm tools to understand biomolecular structural adaptation to aqueous environments. Through a Computational Astrobiology Summer School, Binsted will couple talented computer science majors to interesting astrobiology applications driven by the needs of NAI scientists. Basic research in the area of the area of the evolution of intelligence is being undertaken through model simulations of the advantages and disadvantages of characteristics of intelligence and the effect on species in changing environments.
  • Laboratory work — Experimental work focuses in two areas (1) to look at possible aqueous alteration products in asteroid parent bodies, and (2) to understand low temperature chemical processes occurring in water ice that are relevant to astrophysical environments. For the first focus, experiments have been undertaken, lead by postdoctoral fellow L. Chizmadia, to expose amorphous silicate smokes (analogs for materials found in interplanetary dust particles) to water mimicking various parent body conditions. In a second project lead by Chizmadia has been using scanning electron microscopes to look at meteorite petrology to asses the amount of hydrothermal alteration in the parent bodies. In addition to experiments on pure water ice to look at the amorphization of crystalline ice and understand the chemical processes in the cold outer solar system, our team lead by W. Zheng has investigated the formation of ozone in comet ice analogs in water free ices to look at the production mechanisms for organic molecules
  • Interdisciplinary enterprises — As an outgrowth of ideas seeded during the post-conference tours during the Bioastronomy 2004 meeting in Iceland a collaborative effort has begun tying together researchers from the UCLA team (E. Young), the Goddard team (M. Mumma) and our Icelandic colleagues to investigate the origin of Earth’s water.

Mission Involvement

  • UH NAI Principal Investigator K. Meech is a co-Investigator on NASA’s Deep Impact mission. In addition to continuing to obtain data on the mission target, 9P/Tempel 1 from Nov. 2004 through encounter, Meech undertook the major coordination of world observatories leading up to and during encounter. Along with the outreach activities, these efforts involved 5 postdocs and 5 graduate students. This has lead to the participation in several new Discovery proposals, and proposal concepts some of which have come about because of the interdisciplinary cross fertilization within the NAI.
  • Co-I Toby Owen is heavily involved with the Cassini Saturn mission.

Scientific Visitor Program

The UHNAI team has a vigorous visitor program. We invite colleagues to come visit us for both individual research collaborations with team members and interdisciplinary collaborations. Each visitor in addition to their research efforts during the visit is asked to give one or more seminars or participate in outreach activities. The following visitors were supported during the reporting period

  • Alan Fitzsimmons (Queens University, N. Ireland) — Hosted by K. Meech and M. Kadooka, Fitzsimmons participated in the Deep Impact event on Maui. He was the scientific lead in an extensive outreach program which allowed teachers and students to participate in the Deep Impact mission encounter on July 4.
  • Fernando Rull (Centro de Astrobiologia) — hosted by J. Taylor and S. Sharma, Rull was working on Raman spectral signatures of biomarkers as applicable to terrestrial and Mars environments. He participated in the weekly astrobiology seminar, giving a presentation of his research at the Centro de Astrobiologia in Spain.
  • Peter Schulz (Brown University) — hosted by K. Meech and M. Kadooka, Schulz, a member of the Deep Impact team ran a day long impact cratering workshop for local teachers. In addition he participated in the Astrobiology seminar, and engaged in interdisciplinary discussions with several team members regarding impact alteration of materials relevant to the origin of Earth’s water project.
  • Bill Bottke (Southwest Research Institute) — hosted by N. Haghighipour for 4 weeks. During that time, he gave 9 seminars in a joint lecture series sponsored by the Hawai’i Astrobiology Institute (NAI-HI), the Institute for Astronomy (IfA), the Hawai’i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology (HIGP), and the Center for Star and Planet Formation (CSPF). Bottke’s talks concentrated on how asteroids, comets, meteorites, and interplanetary dust, if properly analyzed and placed in the appropriate context, can be used to constrain planet formation processes as well as the evolution of the Solar System (and Earth) over the last 4.6 Gy. Bottke also interacted with numerous scientists at the University of Hawaii and intends to collaborate with several of them on future projects. For example, in the UHNAI, Bottke plans on working with N. Haghighipour on the physical and dynamical evolution of near-Earth objects and with E. Gaidos on the thermal, collisional, and dynamical evolution of planetesimals formed in the terrestrial planet region. He considers his visit to have been highly productive, with the cross-fertilization of ideas producing several new and interesting projects for future research.
  • James Bauer (JPL) — Hosted by A. Delsanti. Bauer came out for a week to work on spectral modeling of KBO near-IR data, and in addition presented a seminar on his work on Triton volcanism as observed from the Hubble Space Telescope.





Title: Bottke Seminar Series




IfA Aud

Investigation the Near-Earth Object Population





Iron Meteorites as Remnants of Planetesimals from the Terrestrial Planet Region





How Eros, Mathilde and Other Asteroids are used to Understand the Collisional History of the Main Belt




IfA Aud

New Views on the Late Heavy Bombardment




IfA Aud

CSI Solar System: Using Computer Models to Investigate the Nature of Comets and Asteroids [public talk]




PSB 211

Dust Showers in the Late Miocene and Eocene: Produced by Asteroid Breakups?





Dynamical Evolution of Asteroids by Thermal Forces




PSB 211

Formation of Asteroid Satellites

Leveraged Resources

The infrastructure, funding and interdisciplinary research environment has enabled out team to leverage a significant level of local and external resources. Some of these external resources have been awarded as a direct result of the research conducted by our interdisciplinary research team at UH, and in other cases the presence of a strong team which promises interdisciplinary use of new facilities has been the key to getting the support. All together, these outside and local resources amount to approximately $12.8M. These new initiatives involve the following

  • The establishment of the Keck Cosmochemistry Laboratory and Raman facilities
  • Construction of new seafloor observatories and research funding for deep seafloor microbial studies and tracer transport studies
  • Development of miniaturized in-situ instrumentation for space exploration
  • External funding for augmentation for ice irradiation experiments

Scientific Awards

Three members of our team were recognized this year: Dave Jewitt and Dave Karl were elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and Tobias Owen was awarded the Marcel Dassault Grand Prix by the French Academie des Sciences for his work on the Cassini-Huygens project.

Scientific Conferences & Meetings

Star and Planet Formation Day

Michael Liu organized this year’s Star and Planet Formation Day at the Institute for Astronomy in Manoa. This year’s annual event was held a little later than usual, in July, but the preparation and planning was in the year covered by this report. Twenty talks were presented on a variety of topics in star and planet formation, all by researchers residing within one of the institutes in the Hawaiian islands. About 50 persons attended. The goal of these yearly mini-workshops, of which this is the third, is to bring together all active researchers within Hawaii in the field of star and planet formation, the early solar system, and meteoritics, to present on-going research, and to stimulate joint research across the boundaries of these disciplines.


Jonathan Williams (IfA)

Supernova Ejecta in Planetesimals: What are the Odds?


Robert Jedicke (IfA)

Pan-STARRS Moving Object Processing System


Joe Masiero (Pan Starrs)

Main Belt Asteroids; Sky Plane Density, Rotation and Polarization


Tae-Soo Pyo (Subaru)

Subaru [Fe II] Slit Scanning Observation Toward the Base of the L1551 IRS 5 Jets


Josh Walawender

The Role of Protostellar Outflows in Star Formation


Tom Geballe (UKIRT)

3 um spectra of Titan’s Hydrocarbons, HCN and Haze


Michael Liu (IfA)

Brown Dwarf Binaries from Keck Laser Guide Star


Colin Aspin

An Update on Happenings near the Horsehead nebula


Henry Hsieh (IfA)

Main Belt Comets: Ice in the Inner Solar System


Gary Huss (SOEST)

Presolar Grains as Probes of Conditions in the Solar Nebula


Katelyn Allers

Young Planetary Mass Braown Dwarfs with Mid-Infrared Excesses


Nader Haghighipour (IfA)

Habitable Planet Formation


Dagny Looper

Brown Dwarfs from the First Wide-Field Infrared Proper Motion Survey


Ed Scott (HIGP, SOEST)

Chronology of Planetesimal Accretion and Melting in the Early Solar S


Michael Connelley

The Evolution of the Binary Frequency of YSOs: an Example


Mark Willman (IfA)

Asteroid Family Identification Bias


David Jewitt (IfA)

Active Centaurs


Al Conrad (Keck Obsty)

Observing Resolved Asteroids with Adaptive Optics


Gerald Moriarty Schieven (JCMT)

Sequential Star Formation in the L1340B Intermediate-Mass Star Forming region


Eric Gaidos (G&G, SOEST)

Properties of Silicate Metal Planets on Short-Period Orbits around Main Sequence Stars

Protostars and Planets Meeting — October 24-28, 2005

Bo Reipurth is the principal organizer of the Protostars and Planets V conference. The Protostars and Planets series of conferences are the flagships in the field of star and planet formation and meteoritics. Held every 7 years, they review the state of the field and bring scientists and students together from a wide range of disciplines. The PPV conference was held at the Waikoloa Hilton on the Big Island of Hawaii from 24 to 28 October, 2005, to a record attendance of over 800 people. Bo Reipurth and Karen Meech were co-chairs of the Local Organizing Committee. Team members B. Reipurth, K. Keil and D. Jewitt were the co-editors of the University of Arizona Press book Protostars and Planets V, which was completed in record time during January 2006.

Bioastronomy 2007: Molecules, Microbes and Extraterrestrial Life

When the plans to hold the triennial meeting of the International Astronomical Union Commission 51 (Bioastronomy) meeting jointly with the triennial meeting of ISSOL (the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life) in 2008 fell through unexpectedly in February, and with the need to cancel the plans for the general NAI 2007 meeting in Hawaii because of funding cuts, team members from the UH NAI and many others (Carnegie, SETI Institute, Michigan, Goddard) began to work together to plan an independent bioastronomy meeting for 2007. This will be the only major international astrobiology meeting held during 2007. Bids went out for the meeting to several sites, and a selection was made by a team of Federation of Astrobiology, NAI, ISSOL and IAU representatives based on cost and the astrobiological relevance of the site. San Juan Puerto Rico has been selected for the meeting, to be held July 16-20, 2007. The SOC has been formed, chaired by William Irvine, and has a preliminary slate of invited speakers. The meeting will have both invited and contributed talks. The LOC is working on setting up conference field trips, including a visit to the Arecibo Observatory, the Camuy caverns, and to look at extremophiles. The meeting web page ( will be open for registration in Sept. 2006. The following important deadlines should be noted:

  • Jan 15, 2007 Early registration and hotel booking deadline
  • Feb 15, 2007 Abstract and Travel Support request deadline
figure 1
Figure 1. Bioastronomy 2007 Meeting poster and theme.

Staffing and Infrastructure

The UHNAI team is in the processing of recruiting 2 additional postdoctoral fellows into the group in focused areas of research: evolutionary genomics to look at the origin of the earliest life and in planetary science to study water in the asteroid belt.

Two of our postdoctoral fellows are leaving this year: Brian Glazer, who has accepted a faculty position in the Department of Oceanography at the University of Hawaii (and will remain a member of our team), and Audrey Delsanti, who has obtained a permanent position at the Paris Observatory in France. She too will remain a team collaborator and will continue her research with us.

Education/Public Outreach Activities

Formal Education

Team members are increasing their development and offerings of interdisciplinary courses through the University of Hawaii. This year one new course number was approved for Astrobiology. The courses offered for this reporting period include:





Planetary Dynamics



Astrobiology Seminar: Follow the Ice



Protostars and Planets



Voyage of the Vicariance



The Emergence of Animal Life



The Origin of the Solar System

Williams, Krot, Gaidos


Computational Astrobiology Summer School



Microbial Oceanography from Genomes to Biomes

Karl, Church, DeLong, Rappe

K-12 Education and Public Outreach

Our EPO activities are grouped into K-14 workshops for students and teachers, public talks, involvement in the Hawaii State Science Fair. In addition, we have been developing partnerships for cost sharing and have been expanding program opportunities by teaming with others. We conducted two major structured teacher workshops this year:

  • Alii Summer Teacher Workshop — The Astrobiology Laboratory Institute for Instructors is held for 1 week each summer and gives teachers hands on experience and content background in astrobiology, with the participation of a large fraction of our team.
  • Deep Impact Encounter — The UHNAI team participated in 4 major activities at encounter ranging from public events at the Maui Community college (400 people), Univ. of Hawaii at Hilo (500 people), a Lecture at Sunset on the Beach (10,000 people) and activities at the Bishop museum.