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.

Colloquium PhD Thesis Defense: Ethan Dederick
Mar 28 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium PhD Thesis Defense: Ethan Dederick @ Science Hall 109

Seismic Inferences of Gas Giant Planets: Excitation & Interiors

Ethan Dederick, NMSU

Seismology has been the premier tool of study for understanding the interior structure of the Earth, the Sun, and even other stars. In this thesis we develop the framework for the first ever seismic inversion of a rapidly rotating gas giant planet. We extensively test this framework to ensure that the inversions are robust and operate within a linear regime. This framework is then applied to Saturn to solve for its interior density and sound speed profiles to better constrain its interior structure. This is done by incorporating observations of its mode frequencies derived from Linblad and Vertical Resonances in Saturn’s C-ring. We find that although the accuracy of the inversions is mitigated by the limited number of observed modes, we find that Saturn’s core density must be at least 8.97 +/- 0.01 g cm^{-3} below r/R_S = 0.3352 and its sound speed must be greater than 54.09 +/- 0.01 km s^{-1} below r/R_S = 0.2237. These new constraints can aid the development of accurate equations of state and thus help determine the composition in Saturn’s core. In addition, we investigate mode excitation and whether the \kappa-Mechanism can excite modes on Jupiter. While we find that the \kappa-Mechanism does not play a role in Jovian mode excitation, we discover a different opacity driven mechanism, The Radiative Suppression Mechanism, that can excite modes in hot giant planets orbiting extremely close to their host stars if they receive a stellar flux greater than 10^9~erg cm^{-2} s^{-1}. Finally, we investigate whether moist convection is responsible for exciting Jovian modes. Mode driving can occur if, on average, one cloud column with a 1-km radius exists per 6423 km^2 or if ~43 storms with 200 columns, each with a radius of 25 km, erupt per day. While this seems unlikely given current observations, moist convection does have enough thermal energy to drive Jovian oscillations, should it be available to them.

Colloquium PhD Thesis Defense: Sten Hasselquist
Apr 6 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium PhD Thesis Defense: Sten Hasselquist @ BX102

Colloquium Title

Sten Hasselquist, NMSU