Evolving Perspectives on the Atmosphere and Climate of Mars
Dr. Richard Zurek, JPL
Abstract: The planet Mars has both fascinated and tantalized humankind since the invention of the telescope and now well into the age of exploration from space. The first of three waves of space missions to Mars were flyby spacecraft that returned images of a heavily cratered planet with a thin atmosphere, suggesting Mars was more like the Moon than an older Earth. However, Mariner 9, the first spacecraft to orbit another planet, found vast channel and valley networks carved into its surface, as well as towering volcanoes, suggesting that ancient Mars was once much more Earth-like. Subsequent missions have landed on the planet and new orbiters have probed the planet at ever increasing spatial resolution and spectral coverage. As a result of the latest round of space exploration, Mars is revealed to be a complex, diverse planet— one whose climate has changed dramatically over time from an ancient atmosphere where water was active on its surface to a drier, thinner atmosphere shaped by periodic ice ages, to the present atmosphere where dynamic change continues today.
Dr. Zurek is the Chief Scientist in the Mars Program Office, Project Scientist, MRO.
Exploring Impact Heating of the Early Martian Climate
Kathryn Steakley, NMSU
ABSTRACT: Geological evidence implies that Mars may have had a more warm and wet environment during the late Noachian / early Hesperian era (3.5–3.8 billion years ago), but climate models struggle to reproduce such warm conditions. Prior studies with one-dimensional atmospheric models indicate that the water and energy from impacts could provide enough greenhouse warming to raise temperatures above the freezing point of liquid water for many years. We will use the NASA Ames Research Center Mars GCM to characterize potential atmospheric changes induced by impactors ranging in diameter from 50 m to 100 km on a range of early Mars surface pressure scenarios (10-mbar, 100-mbar, 300-mbar, 1-bar, 2-bar, 3-bar). Our objectives are 1) to examine the temperature behavior of the early Martian climate following impacts and determine if environmental conditions on its surface could support liquid water for extended periods of time, and 2) to quantify precipitation rates and examine rainfall patterns on a simulated early Martian surface following impacts and determine if this mechanism is possibly responsible for the formation of observed river valley networks on Mars. Examining climate conditions after impacts with a GCM will allow us to test a potential mechanism for heating the early Martian atmosphere, constrain the magnitude and temporal duration of these potential heating events, and provide insight regarding the availability of liquid water on early Mars which is relevant to its past habitability.
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.
Observing the Baryon Cycle in Hydrodynamic Cosmological Simulations
Jacob Vander Vliet, NMSU
An understanding of galaxy evolution requires an understanding of the flow of baryons in and out of a galaxy. The accretion of baryons is required for galaxies to form stars, while stars eject baryons out of the galaxy through stellar feedback mechanisms such as supernovae, stellar winds, and radiation pressure. The interplay between outflowing and infalling material form the circumgalactic medium (CGM). Hydrodynamic simulations provide understanding in the connection between stellar feedback and the distribution and kinematics of baryons in the CGM. To compare simulations and observations properly the simulated CGM must be observed in the same manner as the real CGM. I have developed the Mockspec code to generate synthetic quasar absorption line observations of the CGM in cosmological hydrodynamic simulations. Mockspec generates synthetic spectra based on the phase, metallicity, and kinematics of CGM gas and mimics instrumental effects. Mockspec includes automatic analysis of the spectra and identifies the gas responsible for the absorption. Mockspec was applied to simulations of dwarf galaxies at low redshift to examine the observable effect different feedback models have on the CGM. While the different feedback models had strong effects on the galaxy, they all produced a similar CGM that failed match observations. Mockspec was applied to the VELA simulation suite of high redshift, high mass galaxies to examine the variance of the CGM across different galaxies in different environments. The observable CGM showed little variation between the different galaxies and almost no evolution from z=4 to z=1. The VELAs were not able to generate a CGM to match the observations. The properties of cells responsible for the absorption were compared to the derived properties from Voigt Profile decomposition. VP modeling was found to accurately describe the HI and MgII absorbing gas but failed for high ionization species such as CIV and OVI, which do not arise in the assumed coherent structures. The technique of mock QAL is useful for testing the accuracy of the simulated CGM and for verifying observational techniques, but not for differentiating between feedback prescriptions in dwarf galaxies.
The Vulture Survey of MgII and CIV Absorbers: Feasting on the Bones of Spectra Left to Die
Nigel Mathes, NMSU
We present detailed measurements of the absorption properties and redshift evolution of MgII and CIV absorbers as measured in archival spectra from the UVES spectrograph at the Very Large Telescope (VLT/UVES) and the HIRES spectrograph at the Keck Telescope (Keck/HIRES) to equivalent width detection limits below 0.01 angstroms. This survey examines 860 high resolution spectra from various archival data sets representing 700 unique sightlines, allowing for detections of intervening MgII absorbers spanning redshifts 0.1 < z < 2.6 and intervening CIV absorbers spanning redshifts 1 < z < 5. We employ an accurate, automated approach to line detection which consistently detects redshifted absorption doublets. We observe three distinct epochs of evolution in the circumgalactic medium (CGM) as traced by MgII and CIV absorbers. At high redshifts, from 3 < z < 5, galaxies rapidly build up a metal enriched halo where, despite significant evolution in the ionizing background, the production of metals through star formation driven outflows dominates observed trends increasing the number of observed absorbers per redshift path length towards z = 3. At mid redshifts, from 2 < z < 3, a large cosmic increase in the global star formation rate drives large numbers of high column density outflows into the halos of galaxies. At this time, metal line absorption of all species is increased above all other epochs. At low redshifts, for z < 2, the universe becomes more quiescent in both star formation and ionizing background. Weak, low column density MgII absorbers proliferate, while strong MgII absorbers likely fragment or re-accrete onto their host galaxy. Strong CIV absorbers, at this time, still increase in number per absorption path, while their weaker counterparts begin to disappear. MgII and CIV absorbers appear to originate in star formation driven outflows, but their different evolutionary properties imply they represent two physically distinct phases of gas. These two phases comprise the CGM and contribute separately to the cycle of baryons into and out of galaxies.
Galaxy Evolution in High Definition Via Gravitational Lensing
Dr. Jane Rigby
Deputy Project Scientist for JWST, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Abstract: In hundreds of known cases, “gravitational lenses” have deflected, distorted, and amplified images of galaxies or quasars behind them. As such, gravitational lensing is a way to “cheat” at studying how galaxies evolve: lensing can magnify galaxies by factors of 10–100 times, transforming them from objects we can barely detect to bright objects we can study in detail. For such rare objects, we are studying how galaxies formed stars at redshifts of 1–4, the epoch when most of the Universe’s stars were formed. For lensed galaxies, we can obtained spectral diagnostics that are currently unavailable for the distant universe, but will become routine with next-generation telescopes.
In particular, I’ll discuss MEGaSaURA, The Magellan Evolution of Galaxies Spectroscopic and Ultraviolet Reference Atlas, which comprises high signal-to-noise, medium spectral resolution (R~3300) spectra of 15 extremely bright gravitationally lensed galaxies at redshifts of 1.6<z<3.6. The sample, drawn from the SDSS Giant Arcs Survey, are many of the brightest lensed galaxies known. The MEGaSaURA spectra reveal a wealth of spectral diagnostics: absorption from the outflowing wind; nebular emission lines that will be key diagnostics for JWST, GMT, and TMT; and photospheric absorption lines and P Cygni profiles from the massive stars that power the outflow.