Galaxy Evolution during the Epoch of Reionization
Steve Finkelstein, University of Texas at Austin
Abstract: The advent of the Wide Field Camera 3 on the Hubble Space Telescope has heralded a new era in our ability to study the earliest phases of galaxy formation and evolution. The number of candidates for galaxies now known at redshifts greater than six has grown to be in the thousands. This allows us to move beyond mere counting of galaxies, to endeavor to understand the detailed physics regulating the growth of galaxies. I will review the recent progress our group in Texas has made in this arena using the exquisite datasets from the CANDELS and Frontier Fields programs. Specifically, our detailed new measurements of both the evolution of the stellar mass function and rest-frame UV luminosity function now allow us to probe the effect of feedback on low-mass galaxies, the star-formation efficiency in high-mass galaxies, and the contribution of galaxies to the reionization of the universe. Our most recent result comes from the Frontier Fields, where we have used an advanced technique to remove the light from the cluster galaxies to uncover z > 6 galaxies as faint as M_UV=-13. Our updated luminosity functions show no sign of a turnover down to these extremely faint levels, providing the first empirical test of reionization models which require such faint galaxies, and is in modest tension with simulations which predict a turnover at brighter levels. I will also discuss our spectroscopic followup efforts, which have yielded two of the four highest redshift confirmed galaxies, and also provide further insight into reionization, by the scattering of Lyman alpha emission by neutral gas in the intergalactic medium. I will conclude with a look ahead to the problems we can expect to tackle with ALMA, JWST, and even more future facilities.
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.
Giant Planet Shielding of the Inner Solar System Revisited: Blending Celestial Mechanics with Advanced Computation
Dr. William Newman, UCLA
The Earth has sustained during the last billion years as many as five catastrophic collisions with asteroids and comets which led to widespread species extinctions. Our own atmosphere was literally blown away 4.5 billion years ago by a collision with a Mars-sized impactor. However, collisions with comets originating in the outer solar system accreted much of the present-day atmosphere. Relatively advanced life on our planet is the beneficiary of a number of impact events during Earth’s history which built our atmosphere without destroying a large fraction of terrestrial life. Using very high precision Monte Carlo integration methods to explore the orbital evolution over hundreds of millions of years followed by the application of celestial mechanical techniques, the presentation will explain directly how Earth was shielded by the combined influence of Jupiter and Saturn, assuring that only 1 in 100,000 potential collisions with the Earth will materialize.