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NASA Ames Research Center
02/2009 - 01/2015 (CAN 5)

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Early Habitable Environments and the Evolution of Complexity

The overarching goal of the NAI ARC Team’s scientific program is to understand the creation and distribution of early habitable environments in emerging planetary systems. A key emphasis of this work is to elucidate, in a conceptual sense, the interactions between contributory processes that operate over vastly differing spatial and temporal scales. This intellectual framework provides a means of integrating the Ames team’s investigations and also the diverse array of applicable research on habitability within the astrobiology community as a whole. The work is organized into six research objectives:

  • Tracing spectroscopically the cosmic evolution of organic molecules from the interstellar medium to protoplanetary disks, planetesimals and finally onto habitable bodies.
  • Predicting the diversity of planetary systems emerging from protoplanetary disks, with a focus on the formation of planets that provide chemical raw materials, energy, and environments necessary to sustain prebiotic chemical evolution and complexity.
  • Modeling particular planetary systems that can support viable atmospheres, including a focus on chemical consequences of radiation and impacts in early atmospheres.
  • Developing and evaluating a more quantitative methodology for assessing the habitability of early planetary environments particularly Mars – via capabilities that will be, or might be, deployed in situ.
  • Identifying critical requirements for the emergence of biological complexity in early habitable environments by examining key steps in the origins and early evolution of catalytic functionality and metabolic reaction networks.
  • Investigating radiation induced effects on biomolecular complexity as a constraint as well as an opportunity for evolution.

Annual Reports