Colloquium Thesis Proposal: Laura Mayorga
Aug 28 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium Thesis Proposal: Laura Mayorga @ BX102

Probing Exoplanet Atmospheric Properties from Phase Variations and Polarization

Laura Mayorga, NMSU

The study of exoplanets is evolving past simple transit and Doppler method discovery and characterization. One of the many goals of the upcoming mission WFIRST-AFTA is to directly image giant exoplanets with a coronagraph. We undertake a study to determine the types of exoplanets that missions such as WFIRST will encounter and what instruments these missions require to best characterize giant planet atmospheres. We will first complete a benchmark study of how Jupiter reflects and scatters light as a function of phase angle. We will use Cassini flyby data from late 2000 to measure Jupiter’s phase curve, spherical albedo, and degree of polarization. Using Jupiter as a comparison, we will then study a sample of exoplanet atmosphere models generated to explore the atmospheric parameter space of giant planets and estimate what WFIRST might observe. Our study will provide valuable refinements to Jupiter-like models of planet evolution and atmospheric composition. We will also help inform future missions of what instruments are needed to characterize similar planets and what science goals will further our knowledge of giant worlds in our universe.

Colloquium: Lauren Woolsey
Feb 12 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium:  Lauren Woolsey @ BX102

Magnetic Influences on Coronal Heating and the Solar Wind

Lauren Woolsey, Harvard University



The physical mechanism(s) that generate and accelerate the solar wind have not been conclusively determined after decades of study, though not for lack of possibilities. The long list of proposed processes can be grouped into two main paradigms: 1) models that require the rearranging of magnetic topology through magnetic reconnection in order to release energy and accelerate the wind and 2) models that require the launching of magnetoacoustic and Alfvén waves to propagate along the magnetic field and generate turbulence to heat the corona and accelerate the emanating wind. After a short overview of these paradigms, I will present my ongoing dissertation work that seeks to investigate the latter category of theoretical models and the role that different magnetic field profiles play in the resulting solar wind properties with Alfvén-wave-driven turbulent heating. I will describe the computer modeling in 1D and 3D that I have done of bundles of magnetic field (flux tubes) that are open to the heliosphere, and what our results can tell us about the influences of magnetic field on the solar wind in these flux tubes, including the latest time-dependent modeling that produces bursty, nanoflare-like heating. Additionally, I will present the latest results of our study of chromospheric network jets and the magnetic thresholds we are finding in magnetogram data.

Colloquium PhD Defense: Kyle Uckert
Aug 26 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium PhD Defense: Kyle Uckert @ BX102

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.