Calendar

Aug
26
Fri
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   

Abstract:
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.

Apr
6
Fri
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

Abstract

Aug
27
Mon
Planetary Group meeting
Aug 27 @ 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Sep
10
Mon
Planetary Group meeting
Sep 10 @ 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Sep
12
Wed
Colloquium PhD Thesis Defense: Alexander Thelen (Host: Nancy Chanover)
Sep 12 @ 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Colloquium PhD Thesis Defense: Alexander Thelen (Host: Nancy Chanover) @ Domenici Hall Room 102

The Chemical Composition and Dynamics of Titan’s Atmosphere as Revealed by ALMA

Alexander Thelen, NMSU

Over the last century, remarkable advances in our understanding of Titan’s atmosphere have been accomplished by a campaign of ground- and space-based observations revealing a wealth of complex, organic species in the moon’s upper atmosphere. Many of Titan’s atmospheric constituents produced through the photochemistry and ionospheric interactions of N2 and CH4 exhibit significant variations with latitude and time, particularly towards the poles and within the winter circumpolar vortex. The measurement of spatial and temporal variations in Titan’s atmosphere enables us to elucidate connections between its dynamics, photochemistry, and the influence of seasonal changes. At the end of the Cassini mission in 2017, we can employ the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) for future observations of Titan’s atmosphere. Here we detail the analysis of numerous short integration (~3 minute) ALMA observations from 2012 to 2015 to investigate Titan’s stratospheric composition, temporal variations, and search for new molecular species. Using the Non-linear optimal Estimator for MultivariatE spectral analySIS (NEMESIS) radiative transfer code, we retrieved vertical profiles of temperature and abundance in Titan’s lower stratosphere through mesosphere (~50–550 km) from three spatially independent regions. We modeled CO emission lines to obtain temperature measurements, and retrieved abundance profiles for HCN, HC3N, C3H4, and CH3CN. The combination of integrated flux maps and vertical atmospheric profiles from spatially resolved observations allowed us to study the circulation of Titan’s middle atmosphere during northern spring. We observed increased temperatures in Titan’s stratopause at high northern latitudes and a persistent northern enrichment of HCN, C3H4, and CH3CN during this epoch; however, increased abundances of all molecules in the southern mesosphere, particularly HCN, and spatial maps of HC3N also show evidence for subsidence at the south pole. We validated these measurements through direct comparisons with contemporaneous Cassini data, previous ground-based observations, and photochemical model results. While no new trace species were detected, ALMA has proven to be a highly capable asset to enhance the data from the final few years of the Cassini mission, and for the continued study of Titan’s atmospheric dynamics, composition, and chemistry into Titan’s northern summer.

Sep
24
Mon
Planetary Group meeting
Sep 24 @ 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Oct
8
Mon
Planetary Group meeting
Oct 8 @ 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Oct
29
Mon
Planetary Group meeting
Oct 29 @ 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Nov
12
Mon
Planetary Group meeting
Nov 12 @ 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Nov
26
Mon
Planetary Group meeting
Nov 26 @ 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm