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.
Extinction mapping with LEGUS
The study of star formation and galaxy evolution in nearby galaxies depends on obtaining accurate stellar photometry in those galaxies. However, dust in the galaxies hinders our ability to obtain accurate stellar photometry, particularly in star-forming galaxies that have the highest concentrations of dust. This proposal presents a thesis project to develop a method for generating extragalactic extinction maps using photometry of massive stars from the Hubble Space Telescope. This photometry spans nearly 50 galaxies observed by the Legacy Extragalactic Ultraviolet Survey (LEGUS). The derived extinction maps can be used to correct other stars and Halpha maps (from the Halpha LEGUS) for extinction, and will be used to constrain changes in the dust-to-gas ratio across the galaxy sample and in different star formation rate, metallicity and morphological environments. Previous studies have found links between galaxy metallicty and the dust-to-gas mass ratio. The relationship between these two quantities can be used to constrain chemical evolution models.
Selected galaxies will also be compared to IR-derived dust maps for comparison to recent M31 results from Dalcanton et al. (2015) which found a minimum factor of 2 inconsistency between their extinction-derived maps and emission-derived maps from Draine et al. (2014).
Simulations of the interstellar medium at high redshift: What does [CII] trace?
Dr. Karen Olsen, Arizona State University
We are in an exciting era were simulations on large, cosmological scales meet modeling of the interstellar medium (ISM) on sub-parsec scales. This gives us a way to predict and interpret observations of the ISM, and in particular the star-forming gas, in high-redshift galaxies, useful for ongoing and future ALMA/VLA projects.
In this talk, I will walk you though the current state of simulations targeting the the fine structure line of [CII] at 158 microns, which has now been observed in several z>6 galaxies. [CII] can arise throughout the interstellar medium (ISM), but the brightness of the [CII] line depends strongly on local environment within a galaxy, meaning that the ISM phase dominating the [CII] emission can depend on galaxy type. This complicates the use of [CII] as a tracer of either SFR or ISM mass and calls for detailed modeling following the different ways in which [CII] can be excited.
I will present SÍGAME (Simulator of GAlaxy Millimeter/submillimeter emission) – a novel method for predicting the origin and strength of line emission from galaxies. Our method combines data from cosmological simulations with sub-grid physics that carefully calculates local radiation field strength, pressure, and ionizational/thermal balance. Preliminary results will be shown from recent modeling of [CII] emission from z~6 star-forming galaxies with SÍGAME. We find strong potential for using the total [CII] luminosity to derive the ISM and molecular gas mass of galaxies during the Epoch of Reionization (EoR).
Cosmology from the Moon: The Dark Ages Radio Explorer (DARE)
Dr. Jack Burns, University of Colorado Boulder
In the New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy & Astrophysics Decadal Survey, Cosmic Dawn was singled out as one of the top astrophysics priorities for this decade. Specifically, the Decadal report asked “when and how did the first galaxies form out of cold clumps of hydrogen gas and start to shine—when was our cosmic dawn?” It proposed “astronomers must now search the sky for these infant galaxies and find out how they behaved and interacted with their surroundings.” This is the science objective of DARE – to search for the first stars, galaxies, and black holes via their impact on the intergalactic medium (IGM) as measured by the highly redshifted 21-cm hyperfine transition of neutral hydrogen (HI). DARE will probe redshifts of 11-35 (Dark Ages to Cosmic Dawn) with observed HI frequencies of 40-120 MHz. DARE will observe expected spectral features in the global signal of HI that correspond to stellar ignition (Lyman-α from the first stars coupling with the HI hyperfine transition), X-ray heating/ionization of the IGM from the first accreting black holes, and the beginning of reionization (signal dominated by IGM ionization fraction). These observations will complement those expected from JWST, ALMA, and HERA. We propose to observe these spectral features with a broad-beam dipole antenna along with a wide-band receiver and digital spectrometer. We will place DARE in lunar orbit and take data only above the farside, a location known to be free of human-generated RFI and with a negligible ionosphere. In this talk, I will present the mission concept including initial results from an engineering prototypes which are designed to perform end-to-end validation of the instrument and our calibration techniques. I will also describe our signal extraction tool, using a Markov Chain Monte Carlo technique, which measures the parameterized spectral features in the presence of substantial Galactic and solar system foregrounds.
The Orbital and Planetary Phase Variations of Jupiter-Sized Planets: Characterizing Present and Future Giants
Laura Mayorga, NMSU
It is commonly said that exoplanet science is 100 years behind planetary science. While we may be able to travel to an exoplanet in the future, inferring the properties of exoplanets currently relies on extracting as much information as possible from a limited dataset. In order to further our ability to characterize, classify, and understand exoplanets as both a population and as individuals, this thesis makes use of multiple types of observations and simulations.
Firstly, direct-imaging is a technique long used in planetary science and is only now becoming feasible for exoplanet characterization. We present our results from analyzing Jupiter’s phase curve with Cassini/ISS to instruct the community in the complexity of exoplanet atmospheres and the need for further model development. The planet yields from future missions may be overestimated by today’s models. We also discuss the need for optimal bandpasses to best differentiate between planet classes.
Secondly, photometric surveys are still the best way of conducting population surveys of exoplanets. In particular, the Kepler dataset remains one of the highest precision photometric datasets and many planetary candidates remain to be characterized. We present techniques by which more information, such as a planet’s mass, can be extracted from a transit light curve without expensive ground- or space-based follow-up observations.
Finally, radial-velocity observations have revealed that many of the larger “planets” may actually be brown dwarfs. To understand the distinction between a brown dwarf and an exoplanet or a star, we have developed a simple, semi-analytic viscous disk model to study brown dwarf evolutionary history. We present the rudimentary framework and discuss its performance compared to more detailed numerical simulations as well as how additional physics and development can determine the potential observational characteristics that will differentiate between various formation scenarios.
Exoplanet science has already uncovered a plethora of previously unconsidered phenomenon. To increase our understanding of our own planet, as well as the other various possible end cases, will require a closer inspection of our own solar system, the nuanced details of exoplanet data, refined simulations, and laboratory astrophysics.
The Vulture Survey of MgII and CIV Absorbers: Feasting on the Bones of Spectra Left to Die
Nigel Mathes, NMSU
We present detailed measurements of the absorption properties and redshift evolution of MgII and CIV absorbers as measured in archival spectra from the UVES spectrograph at the Very Large Telescope (VLT/UVES) and the HIRES spectrograph at the Keck Telescope (Keck/HIRES) to equivalent width detection limits below 0.01 angstroms. This survey examines 860 high resolution spectra from various archival data sets representing 700 unique sightlines, allowing for detections of intervening MgII absorbers spanning redshifts 0.1 < z < 2.6 and intervening CIV absorbers spanning redshifts 1 < z < 5. We employ an accurate, automated approach to line detection which consistently detects redshifted absorption doublets. We observe three distinct epochs of evolution in the circumgalactic medium (CGM) as traced by MgII and CIV absorbers. At high redshifts, from 3 < z < 5, galaxies rapidly build up a metal enriched halo where, despite significant evolution in the ionizing background, the production of metals through star formation driven outflows dominates observed trends increasing the number of observed absorbers per redshift path length towards z = 3. At mid redshifts, from 2 < z < 3, a large cosmic increase in the global star formation rate drives large numbers of high column density outflows into the halos of galaxies. At this time, metal line absorption of all species is increased above all other epochs. At low redshifts, for z < 2, the universe becomes more quiescent in both star formation and ionizing background. Weak, low column density MgII absorbers proliferate, while strong MgII absorbers likely fragment or re-accrete onto their host galaxy. Strong CIV absorbers, at this time, still increase in number per absorption path, while their weaker counterparts begin to disappear. MgII and CIV absorbers appear to originate in star formation driven outflows, but their different evolutionary properties imply they represent two physically distinct phases of gas. These two phases comprise the CGM and contribute separately to the cycle of baryons into and out of galaxies.
Asteroseismology of Red Giants: The Detailed Modeling of Red Giants in Eclipsing Binary Systems
Jean McKeever, NMSU
Asteroseismology is an invaluable tool that allows one to peer into the inside of a star and know its fundamental stellar properties with relative ease. There has been much exploration of solar-like oscillations within red giants with recent advances in technology, leading to new innovations in observing. The Kepler mission, with its 4-year observations of a single patch of sky, has opened the floodgates on asteroseismic studies. Binary star systems are also an invaluable tool for their ability to provide independent constraints on fundamental stellar parameters such as mass and radius. The asteroseismic scaling laws link observables in the light curves of stars to the physical parameters in the star, providing a unique tool to study large populations of stars quite easily. In this work we present our 4-year radial velocity observing program to provide accurate dynamical masses for 16 red giants in eclipsing binary systems. From this we find that asteroseismology overestimates the mass and radius of red giants by 15% and 5% respectively. We further attempt to model the pulsations of a few of these stars using stellar evolution and oscillation codes. The goal is to determine which masses are correct and if there is a physical cause for the discrepancy in asteroseismic masses. We find there are many challenges to modeling evolved stars such as red giants and we address a few of the major concerns. These systems are some of the best studied systems to date and further exploration of their asteroseismic mysteries is inevitable.