Paul Abell, NASA Johnson Flight Center
I will present the current status of NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) that is planned for launch in December 2021. Specifically I will discuss how a solar-electric powered robotic spacecraft will visit a large near-Earth asteroid (NEA), collect a multi-ton boulder from its surface, perform a planetary defense technique at the NEA, and return with the boulder into a stable orbit around the Moon. I will also discuss how astronauts aboard an Orion spacecraft will subsequently explore the boulder, conduct investigations during their extravehicular activities, and return samples to Earth. I will demonstrate how the ARM is part of NASA’s plan to advance technologies, capabilities, and spaceflight experience needed for a human mission to the Martian system in the 2030s. Finally I will discuss how the ARM and subsequent availability of the asteroidal material in cis-lunar space, provide significant opportunities to advance our knowledge of small bodies in terms of science, planetary defense, and in-situ resource utilization (ISRU).
Do star formation laws break in the center of the Galaxy?
Betsy Mills, University of Arizona
I will review our understanding of molecular gas conditions in the central 500 parsecs of the Milky Way, and summarize recent studies that find that the Galactic center deviates from universal star formation relations. It is suggested that the amount of star formation in the Galactic center is less than expected, given the quantity of dense gas in this region. However, in order to conclude that the Galactic center truly breaks these ‘laws’ of star formation, two possibilities must be ruled out: that our indicators in this region could underestimate the amount of star formation, and that prior observations could have overestimated the amount of dense gas. I will analyze new evidence for ongoing star formation in the Galactic center and present new measurements of the gas densities in the Galactic center that show it to be less dense than originally thought. However, I will ultimately argue that the average density of the gas is less relevant to explaining the dearth of star formation than the fraction of gas at each density.
Characterization of Biosignatures within Geologic Samples Analyzed using a Suite of in situ Techniques
Kyle Uckert, NMSU
I investigated the biosignature detection capabilities of several in situ techniques to evaluate their potential to
detect the presence of extant or extinct life on other planetary surfaces. These instruments included: a laser desorption
time-of- flight mass spectrometer (LD-TOF-MS), an acousto-optic tunable filter (AOTF) infrared (IR) point spectrometer, a
laser-induced breakdown spectrometer (LIBS), X-ray diffraction (XRD)/X-ray fluorescence (XRF), and scanning electron
microscopy (SEM)/energy dispersive X-Ray spectroscopy (EDS). I measured the IR reflectance spectra of several speleothems
in caves in situ to detect the presence of biomineralization. Microorganisms (such as those that may exist on other solar
system bodies) mediate redox reactions to obtain energy for growth and reproduction, producing minerals such as
carbonates, metal oxides, and sulfates as waste products. Microbes occasionally become entombed in their mineral
excrement, essentially acting as a nucleation site for further crystal growth. This process produces minerals with a
crystal lattice distinct from geologic precipitation, detectable with IR reflectance spectroscopy. Using a suite of
samples collected from three subterranean environments, along with statistical analyses including principal component
analysis, I measured subsurface biosignatures associated with these biomineralization effects, including the presence of
trace elements, morphological characteristics, organic molecules, and amorphous crystal structures.
I also explored the optimization of a two-step LD-TOF-MS (L2MS) for the detection of organic molecules and other
biosignatures. I focused my efforts on characterizing the L2MS desorption IR laser wavelength dependence on organic
detection sensitivity in an effort to optimize the detection of high mass (≤100 Da) organic peaks. I analyzed samples
with an IR reflectance spectrometer and an L2MS with a tunable desorption IR laser whose wavelength range (2.7 – 3.45
microns) overlaps that of our IR spectrometer (1.6 – 3.6 microns), and discovered a IR resonance enhancement effect. A
correlation between the maximum IR absorption of organic functional group and mineral vibrational transitions – inferred
from the IR spectrum – and the optimal IR laser configuration for organic detection using L2MS indicates that IR
spectroscopy may be used to inform the optimal L2MS IR laser wavelength for organic detection. This work suggests that a
suite of instruments, particularly LD-TOF-MS and AOTF IR spectroscopy, has strong biosignature detection potential on a
future robotic platform for investigations of other planetary surfaces or subsurfaces.
The NMSU Department of Astronomy will hold an observatory open house at the NMSU campus observatory at 8 p.m.Friday, Sept. 9. Astronomy personnel on hand will be Chris Churchill and graduate assistants Xander Thelen, Trevor Picard and Jacob Vander Vliet.
Guests can view Mars and Saturn together in the evening sky in the constellation of Scorpio. Telescopes will also have the center of the Milky Way Galaxy in view, and in this region there are many beautiful star clusters and globular clusters (tight groups of millions of stars). High in the sky, viewers will see the constellation Vega with its double-double star system and the famous ring nebula, which is the remnants of a dying star much like our own sun. The moon will be in the phase called first quarter and will make a wonderful sight.
Contact the NMSU Astronomy Department at 575-646-4438 with questions. Everyone is welcome to come and spend an evening of stargazing. Admission is free and children are especially welcome to attend.
For information on what is up in September, go here: http://whatsouttonight.com/Resources/2016SepSkyWOT.pdf