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2010 Annual Science Report

University of Hawaii, Manoa Reporting  |  SEP 2009 – AUG 2010

Executive Summary

Executive Summary of NAI Team
Karen J. Meech
2010 Annual Report
Reporting Period: September 1, 2009 – August 31, 2010


Water is the medium in which the chemistry of all life on Earth takes place. It is likely to be equally important for Astrobiology in general. It is the theme we chose for the first five years of the Univer-sity of Hawai’i (UH) NAI (CAN 3) and it is the theme we proposed for CAN5. Like our earlier effort, this proposal combines a set of studies that range from the interstellar medium to the interior of planet Earth, all designed to elucidate ``the origin, history, and distribution of water and its relation to life in the Universe”, and the relation to Habitable Worlds. However, our focus has changed to highlight those areas of research that can make the most use of interdisciplinary approaches. The research ... Continue reading.

Field Sites
16 Institutions
31 Project Reports
39 Publications
8 Field Sites

Project Reports

  • Ice Chemistry Experiments

    A variety of astrobiological experiments have been conducted to look at the formation and degredation of biologically important species under space simulated conditions.

  • Comparative Icy Bodies Studies Data Access Framework

    We are developing a new database architecture and software to efficiently
    access and archive terabyte-sized sets of small body (comet and asteroid) data
    for long term studies relevant to thermal modeling, secular changes in activity,
    composition and evolution. Ultimately this will will be instrumental when connected
    with other large scale small body projects in the solar system (comet taxonomies,
    dynamical studies) to understand the formation and evolution of the solar system.

  • Reconciling Giant Planet Formation With the Origin and Impact History of the Parent Bodies of Differentiated Meteorites

    We have studied the interactions of protoplanets with planetsimals in the terrestrial region of the solar system during the formation of giant planets. We have shown that when Jupiter grows to 50 Earth-masses, it will affect the dynamics of planetesimals and their scattering to the inner asteroid belt.

  • The Deep Hot Biosphere: Expedition 331 of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP)

    Hydrothermal systems on the seafloor, and their associated submarine hot springs, are one of the leading candidates for the setting in which life originated on planet Earth some 4 billion years ago. Today these systems are known to harbor active and diverse communities of microbes, both bacteria and archaea, which thrive on the high temperatures and the abundant sources of chemical energy supplied by reduced chemical species generated from magma and by water-rock reactions within the hydrothermal system. From September 1 through October 4, 2010, we drilled into an active high-temperature hydrothermal system in the Okinawa Trough, an actively rifting back-arc basin that lies in a transitional region between continental and oceanic crust, northwest of the island of Okinawa in the western Pacific Ocean. The objectives of this drilling were to investigate microbial communities with the hydrothermal system and their geochemical and geophysical setting.

  • Untitled Project

    The ultimate goal of our study is to understand the origin of water in planetary bodies (asteroids, comets and terrestrial planets) and its role in aqueous and hydrothermal processes on these bodies. In our current project, we focused on CV (Vigarano type) carbonaceous chondrites, which contain many secondary minerals resulting from aqueous alteration in their parent asteroids. On the other hand, CV chondrites also contain heavily metamorphosed fragments, which may have formed in interior of CV asteroids. In order to better understanding for the evolution of CV hydrous asteroids, it is important to study both of secondary minerals and metamorphosed fragments.

  • Detection of Terrestrial Planets Around M Stars

    We have carried out an extensive search for small extrasolar planets around M stars in the solar neighborhood. Our search is focused on planets in the habitable zone. We have been able to detect 4 planets around M stars, among which an Earth-like planet in the habitable zone of star GL 581.

  • Formation and Prospect of the Detection of Habitable Super-Earths Around Low-Mass Stars: Reconciling Theory With Observation

    We have studied the formation of terrestrial planets around M stars with a migrating giant planet. Results indicate that terrestrial planet formation is possible at somewhat large distances where the giant planet captures the terrestrial body in resonance, and the two objects migrate to close-in orbits.

  • Icy Blue Trans-Neptunian Objects

    Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs) contain some of the most pristine material in the solar system and therefore offer a unique opportunity to study chemical and physical properties of the early solar system. This project undertakes to search for rotational color variation on TNOS to look for chemical heterogeneity and infer the presence of exposed ice.

  • PanSTARRS MBC Stamp Server and Searching for Main Belt Comets

    We have been developing the architecture to search for activity in moving objects
    discovered with the new Pan-STARRS1 all sky survey, and in particular to look
    for volatile-driven activity in the new class of objects, called Main Belt Comets.
    The survey facility is now operational and we are starting to do the first big processing
    of the datasets.

  • Keck Astrochemistry Laboratory

    A new Keck Astrochemistry laboratory is being set up in which low temperature, high vacuum ice irradiation experiments can take place to simulate molecule formation in space. This will be used to explore the formation of molecules of astrobiological relevance and understand the changes that occur in the space environment. The lab will be unique because it is the only one with multiple sources of radiation over the whole spectrum and will have multiple analytical tools to measure the products so that the data can be compared to astronomical observations.

  • Quantification of the Disciplinary Roots of Astrobiology

    While astrobiology is clearly an interdisciplinary science, this project seeks to address the question of how interdisciplinary it is. We are reviewing published works across a broad range of scholarly databases, comparing disciplinary indicators such as subject terms, journal titles and author affiliations, and creating a computational model to identify and compare the makeup of astrobiological research literature in terms of the proportion of work that come from constituent fields.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 1.2 2.1 2.2 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 4.1 4.2 4.3 5.1 5.2 5.3 6.1 6.2 7.1 7.2
  • D/H Measurements in Samples From Mantle Hotspots

    The origin of Earth’s water is an open question. We are trying to constrain the origin of Earth’s water by measuring the D/H ratios of glass inclusions inside olivine grains from lavas erupted at the Hawaiian and Icelandic hot spots. The hope is that these glass inclusions retain hydrogen from the deep mantle of the Earth, hydrogen that may preserve the original hydrogen isotopic composition of the Earth.

  • Modelling Grain Surface Chemistry in Dense Clouds – Deuteration

    Understanding and tracing isotopic abundance patterns provides a key marker for
    tracing the history and evolution of planetary systems. In particular deuterium chemistry
    is of interest for tracing the origin of water in habitable worlds. The deuterium to hydrogen ratio is set in the big bang, but the relative abundance of deuterium is enhanced in interstellar space in regions of cold molecular clouds. We have been trying to understand the observations of deuterated water in space through a series of chemical models. D/H enhancement in the precursor solar system material gives us starting conditions for the early solar system composition.

  • Contribution of Planetesimals to the Composition of Gas-Giant Planets

    We have studied the interaction of planetesimals with the gaseous envelope of a giant planet at the late stage of planet formation while the envelope is contracting. We have shown that because of gas drag, material from planetesimals is deposited in the gas which enhances its metallicity over that of the Sun.

  • Analogue Environment Deployments on the Big Island

    The Big Island of Hawaii has several sites that are excellent analogs for areas on the Moon and/or Mars. We are currently planning two analog deployments for 2012: one to test technology related to in-situ resource utilization, and one to investigate human factors in long-term space exploration. The focus this year is on site selection and research planning.

  • VYSOS Construction

    The VYSOS project aims at surveying all the major star forming regions all across the entire northern and southern sky for variable young stars. Two small survey telescopes have been purchased and provide large area shallow observations, and two larger telescopes allow
    deeper more detailed observations. All observations are done robotically.

  • Computational Astrobiology Summer School

    The Computational Astrobiology Summer School (CASS) is an excellent opportunity for graduate students in computer science and related areas to learn about astrobiology, and to carry out substantial projects related to the field.

    The two-week on-site part of the program is an intensive introduction to the field of astrobiology. NASA Astrobiology Institute scientists present their work, and the group discusses ways in which computational tools (e.g. models, simulations, data processing applications, sensor networks, etc.) could improve astrobiology research. Also during this time, participants define their projects, with the help of the participating NAI researchers. On returning to their home institutions, participants work on their projects, under the supervision of a mentor, with the goal of presenting their completed projects at an astrobiology-related conference the following year.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 1.2 2.1 2.2 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 4.1 4.2 4.3 5.1 5.2 5.3 6.1 6.2 7.1 7.2
  • Mars Bulk Composition and Aqueous Alteration

    The bulk composition of Mars, including its total inventory of water, is central to understanding how Mars and the other inner planets formed. Comparison between the abundances of water and volatile elements in Mars, Earth, and Moon are particularly important to understand the source of water to the Earth. Martian bulk composition is also crucial to elucidating the processes involved in the initial differentiation into core, mantle and crust, and to the subsequent geologic evolution of the crust. Unraveling and quantifying the details of aqueous alteration on Mars is central to assessing the planet’s habitability and much of its geologic evolution. It also bears on determining Martian bulk composition and the source of planetesimals that accreted to form Mars.

  • Permafrost in Hawaii

    Microclimates are small areas where climate conditions differ from the surrounding area. This can lead to the occurrence of permafrost in otherwise ice-free areas. Although the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii is exceptionally dry, sporadic permafrost exists in cinder cones near the summit. Additionally, ice caves are known to exist on the flanks of Mauna Loa, Hawaii. The reasons for the persistence of the ice are inadequately understood. Theoretical models have been developed to illuminate microclimatic effects. The microclimates, in the craters and the ice caves, also serve as analogues for microclimates on Mars, where sporadic ice patches can be found in relatively warm regions.

  • Planetesimal Accretion in Binary Star Systems

    We have studied the collisional growth of planetesimals in a circumstellar disk in a binary star system. Our simulations shows in an eccentric disk, the precession of the gaseous component causes large planetesimals in the outer part of the disk to collide and accrete to larger objects.

  • Hydrogen in Nominally Anhydrous Minerals

    The amount of water in the Earth’s interior is not known. Experiments have shown that at high pressure, the high-pressure forms of the minerals that make up the Earth’s mantle can contain significant hydrogen substituting for magnesium. We are carrying out a series of experiments to determine how much hydrogen (=water) can be contained in these high-pressure minerals. Mineral samples produced at mantle pressures in the presence of water are being measured using the Cameca ims 1280 ion microprobe at the Unversity of Hawaii to determine the maximum amount of water that each mineral can hold at high pressure, providing a constraint on the possible water content of the mantle.

  • Stardust NExT and EPOXI Mission Observing Coordination

    We have been supporting small body (comet) space missions both with ground based observations and by coordinating a world-wide observing effort.

  • Solar System Icy Body Thermal Modeling and Evolutionary Pathways

    Thermal evolution models have been developed and applied to various classes of small, icy
    solar system bodies in order to understand the longevity and composition of volatiles materials
    they contain, and to explore the evolution of these bodies. The models use a quasi-3D
    thermal evolution code, which is combined with astronomical observations, and dust-
    dynamical modeling. We have completed a parameter study of ice in the new class of objects
    called the main belt comets, and have found that unexpectedly, water ice can survive over
    the age of the solar system under certain conditions. This provides exciting prospects for
    potentially exploring a previously unexplored reservoir of early solar system volatiles. We are
    extending these models to comets which spend less time in the inner solar system and have
    found that for comet Kopff, there is a volatile other than water driving some of the activity. This
    modeling is being extended to Centaur objects which are evolving dynamically into the inner solar system from the Kuiper belt region.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 2.2 3.1
  • AIRFrame Technical Infrastructure and Visualization Software Evaluation

    The Astrobiology Integrative Research Framework (AIRFrame) analyzes published and unpublished documents to identify and visualize implicit relationships between astrobiology’s diverse constituent fields. The main goal of the AIRFrame project is to allow researchers and the public to discover and navigate across related information from different disciplines.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 1.2 2.1 2.2 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 4.1 4.2 4.3 5.1 5.2 5.3 6.1 6.2 7.1 7.2
  • Amino Acid Alphabet Evolution

    A standard “alphabet” of just 20 amino acids builds the proteins that interact to form metabolism of all life on Earth (rather like the English of 26 letters can be linked into words that interact in sentences and paragraphs to produce meaningful writing). However, considerable research from many scientific disciplines points to the idea that many other amino acids are made by non-biological processes throughout the universe. A natural question is why did life on our planet “choose” the members of its standard alphabet?

    Our project seeks to gather and organize the diverse information that describes these non-biological amino acids, to understand their properties and potential for making proteins and thus to understand better whether the biology that we know is a clever, predictable solution to making biology – or just one of countless possible solutions that may exist elsewhere.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 3.1 3.2 3.4 4.1 4.3 6.2 7.1 7.2
  • Bioastronomy 2007 Meeting Proceedings

    This is the published volume of material from an astrobiology meeting hosted by our lead team in 2007 in San Juan Puerto Riceo. The book includes 60 papers covering the breadth of astrobiology, and developed a new on-line astrobiology glossary.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 1.2 2.1 2.2 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 4.1 4.2 4.3 5.1 5.2 5.3 6.1 6.2 7.1 7.2
  • Deep (Sediment-Buried Basement) Biosphere

    The ocean crust comprises the largest aquifer on earth and there is increasing evidence that supports the presence of actively growing microbial communities within basaltic porewaters.

    Advanced Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) circulation obviation retrofit kit (CORK) observatories provide a unique opportunity to sample these otherwise inaccessible deep subseafloor habitats at the basalt-sediment transition zone. Aging porewaters remain isolated within this sediment-buried upper oceanic basement, subjected to increasing temperatures and pressures as plates move away from spreading ridges.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 4.1 4.2 5.2 5.3 6.1 6.2 7.1 7.2
  • Lunar Water, Volatiles, and Differentiation

    Recent discoveries of water in the Moon have important implications for how and when water was delivered to Earth. One way of investigating this is to determine how much water the Moon had when it formed. We do this by searching for water in rocks rich in trace elements that behave somewhat like water does in magmas. It turns out that this problem cannot be separated from study of lunar differentiation, so we also try to figure out how the major types of lunar rocks formed.

  • Main Belt Comet Characterization

    We are undertaking a comprehensive characterization of known main belt comets, an
    important new class of volatile rich objects in the asteroid belt. These objects may retain
    water from the early era of the solar system, and as such represent a reservoir of water that we have not yet sampled, and thus they may play an important role in understanding how volatiles got distributed to habitable worlds.

  • Nanoparticle Levitator

    Reactions on the surfaces of micron and nano-sized particles are important in many areas of science including astrochemistry. Thus far, most of our understanding of such surface chemistry has been obtained from standard surface-science techniques. We are assembling and testing an
    acoustic levitation device to levitate and trap microparticles. The work is relevant to the formation of astrobiologically important molecules on silicate particles in the interstellar medium.

  • Oxygen Isotopes of Apatites in Precambrian Banded Iron Formations

    Dominic Papineau from the Carnegie team, received an NAI research scholarship to come work with team member Gary Huss to use the ion microprobe to look at apatite grains in a suite of Precambrian banded iron formations in order to document the ranges of d18O values dot see if this technique could be used for biosignature studies in banded iron formations.