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2014 Annual Science Report

NASA Ames Research Center Reporting  |  SEP 2013 – DEC 2014

Mineralogical Traces of Early Habitable Environments

Project Summary

The goal of our work is to understand how habitability (potential to support life) varies across a range of physical and chemical parameters, in order to support a long-term goal of characterizing habitability of environments on Mars. The project consists of two main components: 1. We are examining the interplay between physicochemical environment and associated microbial communities in a subsurface environment dominated by serpentinization (a reaction involving water and crustal rocks, which indicated by surface mineralogy to have occurred on ancient Mars). 2. We are working to understand how mineral assemblages can serve as a lasting record of prior environmental conditions, and therefore as indicators of prior habitability. This component directly supports the interpretation of mineralogy data obtained by the CheMin instrument on the Mars Science Laboratory.

4 Institutions
3 Teams
4 Publications
1 Field Site
Field Sites

Project Progress

Work in this project year focused principally on the serpentinite borehole observatories at McLaughlin Natural Reserve, which were established in project year 3. We completed sequencing and analysis of metagenomes from cored material and recovered well fluids, X-ray diffraction analysis of cored materials, and 18 months of seasonal monitoring. Additionally, we installed and recovered a first round of down-hole microbial colonization experiments, and conducted an initial suite of enrichment culturing experiments. Results were published in Frontiers in Microbiology and Scientific Drilling, and presented at the Tenth International Symposium on Subsurface Microbiology and the American Geophysical Union Fall meeting.

Figure 1. Tom Bristow and Niki Parenteau talk with museum visitors about rocks, Mars, and life, as part of the California Academy of Sciences “Dark Universe” program. For six consecutive weekends, the Ames team contributed an interactive exhibit and supplied speakers for the Cal Academy’s “Connect with a Scientist” series of live interviews.

Figure 2. Melitza Crespo-Medina (L foreground), Katrina Twing (left background) and Danielle Gruen (R) talk science as Katrina and Melitza sample CROMO well fluids for RNA.