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Planetary And Exoplanetary Atmospheres (3222)
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 Planetary Chemistry and Astrobiology (3225)
Planetary Chemistry and Astrobiology Image

Our group is composed of several research teams with the common focus of understanding emergent structures, whether of life or planetary topographies, and also of far-from-equilibrium chemistries to aid in life detection and its evolution. Group members are involved with every aspect of space exploration from future mission planning and instrument development through mission implementation and the analysis and interpretation of spacecraft data. Additionally, member teams are actively observing solar system bodies, focusing on comets, as well planning for the laboratory analysis of samples that have been returned from the Moon and will be returned from Mars. This will allow for a more nuanced evaluation of changes in an ecosystem over time. The method will also significantly diminish the mass of material necessary to make bulk isotope measurements - very important for those precious Mars samples.

Group members are developing two instruments for Mars 2020, PIXL (X-ray Lithochemistry) and SHERLOC (deep UV/Raman).

  • Is serpentinization the mother engine of life?
  • Do fuel cells reveal how electrical and protonic gradients drove life into being on water worlds?
  • What geologic and isotopic characteristics of ancient rocks indicate and characterize early life?
  • What is the nature of life in extreme environments?
  • What are planetary atmos- and hydro-spheres like?
  • How do these studies feed into life detection, habitability and habitancy?

Planetary Chemistry and Astrobiology: Missions and Projects

Our group members have a history of experience with missions including leadership roles on the future Mars 2020 mission. Our members have active research grants from a vast array of programs including instrument development programs and R&A programs. Laboratory work is an important part of our research and we work on various topics including stable isotopic and organic geochemical biosignatures at the microscale (abcLab), development of astrobiology instrumentation and spectroscopy (SHERLOC), astrobiology lab, fuel cells, hydrothermal lab, serpentinization and supercritical CO2 extraction.

Development of technology for the future is also a key part of the group’s work, these include development of TLS (Tunable Laser Spectrometer) for Venus and TLS implementation for CubeSat missions, Nano-Elemental Analyzer for 13CO2 & 15N2 by cryo-trapping for isotope ratio mass spectrometry, X-Ray fluorescence spectroscopy, miniature mass spectrometry, and deep UV fluorescence & Raman/Visible Raman. One example of this work is the measurement of the carbon and hydrogen isotope composition of individual microfossils in readiness for Mars sample return.

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