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.
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 growth of Earth’s inner core: a new technique to constrain seismic properties in its outermost layers
Dr. Lauren Waszek, Department of Physics, NMSU
The inner core displays a hemispherical difference in seismic velocity, attenuation, and anisotropy, which is well-established from seismic studies. Recent observations reveal increasingly complex and regional features. However, geodynamical models generally only attempt to explain the basic east-west asymmetry. Regional seismic features, such as depth-dependence anisotropy or variation in hemisphere boundaries, are difficult to reproduce and relatively poorly constrained by seismic data. Processes to generate these complex features are debated.
The structures of the inner core are suggested to be formed as the inner core grows over time. Thus, the most recently-formed outermost layers likely hold the key to understanding the geodynamical mechanisms generating the inner core properties. Current datasets of the uppermost inner core and inner core boundary are limited by uneven data coverage, however. In the very uppermost inner core, seismic waves arrive with similar travel times and interfere, making measurements difficult.
Despite the uneven coverage of current datasets, we can use them to infer a very slow inner core super-rotation. The first ever global tomographical inversion for the inner core allows us to make regional observations, and map the lateral variation in the hemispherical structures. In the uppermost inner core, we have developed a new waveform modeling technique with synthetic data to separate these seismic phases, allowing us to measure the seismic properties in the very uppermost inner core. This, in combination with geodynamical modeling, will help us determine how the inner core hemispheres and other features are generated.
Dark Sky Images
Ken, an retired engineer, is a highly technically skilled and artistic
astrophotographer. He will be sharing some of his work and elaborating on
the technical methods and processing techniques he applies to obtain his
unique and enhanced images. You can see Ken’s work at: