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2007 Annual Science Report

Astrobiology Roadmap Objective 3.1 Reports Reporting  |  JUL 2006 – JUN 2007

Project Reports

  • Project 1. From Molecular Clouds to Habitable Planetary Systems

    Building on results described in last year’s report, Co-investigator John Chambers’s work this year has focused on models for the growth of planets in the presence of planetary migration. Inward migration of planetary orbits is widely believed to be an important process, but it is neglected in most studies of planet formation due to doubts about whether planets would survive.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 1.2 2.1 3.1 7.2
  • Planetary Biology, Evolution, and Intelligence

    The results of a two and a half day workshop on the topic of the Habitability of Planets Orbiting M Stars was published recently. Thirty scientists from nineteen institutions in the US and UK participated. Thirteen of the participants were from six other NAI Teams

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 1.2 2.1 2.2 3.1 3.2 4.1 4.2 5.1 5.2 5.3 6.1 6.2 7.1 7.2
  • Acquisition of Witec Confolcal Raman Scanning System
  • Abiotic Experiments & Hydrocarbon Yielding Water/Mineral Reactions
    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 3.1 7.1 7.2
  • Module 1: The Building Blocks of Life

    Module 1 concerns the study of Astrochemistry and how it may have contributed to the development of living systems.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 3.1 3.2 4.3
  • Project 2. Extraterrestrial Materials: Origin and Evolution of Organic Matter and Water in the Solar System


    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 2.1 3.1
  • Climate, Habitability, and the Atmosphere on Early Mars
    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.2 2.1 2.2 3.1 7.1
  • Project 3. Prebiotic Chemical and Isotopic Evolution on Earth


    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 3.1 4.1 4.2 7.1
  • From Proto-Metabolism to the RNA World
  • Project 4. Prebiotic Molecular Selection and Organization


    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 3.1 3.2 3.4 4.1 7.1
  • Evolution of Abiotic Environments to Ecosystems

    Field work in 2006-2007 included trips to the high Arctic and to the Precambrian Canadian Shield. Study sites were selected on the basis of temperature and contrasting levels of hydrogen. Study sites included environments impacted by permafrost and environments at latitudes south of persistent permafrost. The level of free hydrogen gas is temperature-dependent and appears to be an important controlling factor on microbial processes.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 2.2 3.1 3.2 3.3 5.1 5.2 5.3 6.1 6.2 7.1 7.2
  • Project 5. Life in Extreme Environments

    The research objectives of Co-Investigator John Baross continue to focus on the microbial and biogeochemical characterization of Earth environments that share geophysical and geochemical characteristics with other planetary systems. The emphasis of Baross and his team is on magma-hosted and peridotite-hosted hydrothermal systems and subseafloor rock-hosted ecosystems affected by hydrothermal activity.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 3.1 5.1 5.3 6.2
  • Experimental Study of Radiolytic Oxidation of Pyrite as a Source of Sulfate and Hydrogen to Sustain Microbial Metabolism
    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 2.2 3.1 3.3 5.3 6.1 6.2
  • Project 6. Molecular and Isotopic Biosignatures

    Differences in carbon isotope ratios of co-occurring dolomite, carbonate fluorapatite, and organic matter in Paleoproterozoic stromatolitic phosphorites from the Aravalli Supergroup, India, suggest elevated primary productivity during sedimentation. Postdoctoral Fellow Dominic Papineau’s research provides a basis for the examination of other Paleoproterozoic phosphorites and a contribution to the identification of biosignatures in phosphatic sediments.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 3.1 4.1 4.2 5.3 6.1 6.2 7.1 7.2
  • Prebiotic Organics From Space
    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 3.1 3.4 4.3 7.1 7.2
  • Project 7. Astrobiotechnology

    Co-Investigator Andrew Steele and colleagues have continued to develop the Modular Assays for Solar System Exploration (MASSE) concept, which uses microfluidic technology to incubate a DNA or protein microarray. This year has been a milestone in the use of this technology in space with involvement in two missions, one to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the STS 116 shuttle launch, the other a Biopan low earth orbit exposure mission that will launch in September.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 2.2 3.1 3.2 4.2 5.3 6.2 7.1
  • Composition of Parent Volatiles in Comets: Emphasis on Oxidized Carbon

    Co-I DiSanti’s research emphasizes the chemistry of volatile oxidized carbon, in particular the efficiency of converting carbon monoxide to formaldehyde and methyl alcohol on the surfaces of icy grain mantles prior to their incorporation into the nucleus.

  • Cosmic Ice Laboratory

    In the Cosmic Ice Laboratory we simulate the low-pressure, low-temperature environment of space using a high-vacuum chamber and a cryostat. Ice samples are prepared on a pre-cooled mirror inside the cryostat and then exposed to energetic processing.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.2 3.1 7.1
  • Laser Mass Spectrometry for Planetary Analog and in Situ Chemical Analyses

    Work on laser time-of-flight mass spectrometry (TOF-MS) techniques continues at JHU/APL in collaboration with the Goddard Center for Astrobiology (GCA) team and external partners.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 2.2 3.1 3.2 7.1
  • Stability of Methane Hydrates in the Presence of High Salinity Brines on Mars
    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 2.2 3.1 7.1 7.2
  • Origin and Evolution of Organics

    This research is part of the NASA Goddard Astrobiology Node. Our outgassing models predict the composition of first-formed atmospheres on the Earth and other rocky planets in our own and other solar systems formed from chondritic material. Chondritic material forms in any protoplanetary disk with solar or near-solar composition.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 1.2 3.1 3.2
  • Origin and Evolution of Organics in Planetary Systems

    As part of the overall Astrobiology Node at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, whose goal is an understanding of the Origin and Evolution of Organics in Planetary Systems (Mike Mumma, P. I.), Co-Investigator Blake is directing both laboratory and astronomical spectroscopy programs.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 2.1 3.1
  • Summary of Activities in the Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory

    Dworkin and collaborators have been active in the lab section of the GCA Astrobiology Team by operating the Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory and collaborating with numerous other laboratories. This involves the creation and maintenance of a world-class organic analytical laboratory. His lab was largely created with GCA funds, and Dworkin leveraged them by obtaining internal GSFC funds sufficient to double its space and equipment.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 2.1 2.2 3.1 7.1
  • Synthesis of Complex Organics on Natural Grain Analogs

    In this reporting year, we conducted a systematic study of amorphous iron silicate smokes as catalysts for producing complex hydrocarbons in the proto-planetary disk by simultaneous Fischer-Tropsch/Haber-Bosch reactions, e.g., CO + N2 + H2 => complex hydrocarbons and water (Figure 1).

  • The Evolution of Organics in Space

    Understanding the nature of the natal interstellar cloud is crucial to understanding the chemistry of the solar nebula, and hence the chemistry of the Sun and planets. Since that cloud no longer exists, it is necessary to study the cores of existing dense interstellar clouds where stars are forming. Moreover, since the physical conditions vary among and within such clouds, it is important to investigate the chemical and physical processes in a variety of such environments.

  • Towards a Cometary Taxonomy Based on Organic Composition

    This research is targeted on building a new taxonomy for comets based on their parent volatile compositions, especially organics. This taxonomy is crucial for understanding the role of each taxonomic group in delivering prebiotic organics and water to early Earth. During this reporting period, we identified the first comet of Kuiper belt origin belonging to the “organics-depleted” class (joining two Oort cloud comets of similar composition).

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 3.1 4.1 4.3
  • X-Ray Emission From Intermediate-Mass Young Stars and Star-Forming Regions

    High-energy photons in the young stellar environment are known to be important in stimulating chemical reactions of molecules and producing pre-biotic materials that might later be incorporated into comets.

  • Water-Rock Chemistry and Habitats for Life

    During the 2005-2006 year, I conducted a comparison of the textures, mineralogy and bulk compositions of the fine-grained rims of carbonaceous chondrites and aggregate interplanetary dust particles (IDPs).