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.
Asteroseismology of Red Giants: The Detailed Modeling of Red Giants in Eclipsing Binary Systems
Jean McKeever, NMSU
Asteroseismology is an invaluable tool that allows one to peer into the inside of a star and know its fundamental stellar properties with relative ease. There has been much exploration of solar-like oscillations within red giants with recent advances in technology, leading to new innovations in observing. The Kepler mission, with its 4-year observations of a single patch of sky, has opened the floodgates on asteroseismic studies. Binary star systems are also an invaluable tool for their ability to provide independent constraints on fundamental stellar parameters such as mass and radius. The asteroseismic scaling laws link observables in the light curves of stars to the physical parameters in the star, providing a unique tool to study large populations of stars quite easily. In this work we present our 4-year radial velocity observing program to provide accurate dynamical masses for 16 red giants in eclipsing binary systems. From this we find that asteroseismology overestimates the mass and radius of red giants by 15% and 5% respectively. We further attempt to model the pulsations of a few of these stars using stellar evolution and oscillation codes. The goal is to determine which masses are correct and if there is a physical cause for the discrepancy in asteroseismic masses. We find there are many challenges to modeling evolved stars such as red giants and we address a few of the major concerns. These systems are some of the best studied systems to date and further exploration of their asteroseismic mysteries is inevitable.
Clues to Globular Cluster Formation
David Nataf, Johns Hopkins University
Globular clusters are now well-established to host “Second-generation” stars, which show anomalous abundances in some or all of He, C, N, O, Na, Al, Mg, etc. The simplest explanations for these phenomena typically require the globular clusters to have been ~20x more massive at birth, and to have been enriched by processes which are not consistent with the theoretical predictions of massive star chemical synthesis models. The library of observations is now a vast one, yet there has been comparatively little progress in understanding how globular clusters could have formed and evolved. In this talk I discuss two new insights into the matter. First, I report on a meta-analysis of globular cluster abundances that combined APOGEE and literature data for 28 globular clusters, new trends with globular cluster mass are identified. I discuss the chemical properties of former globular cluster stars that are now part of the field population, and what can be learned.
Understanding How Galaxies Reionized the Universe
Sanchayeeta Borthakur, Arizona State University
Identifying the population of galaxies that was responsible for the reionization of the universe is a long-standing quest in astronomy. While young stars can produce large amounts of ionizing photons, the mechanism behind the escape of Lyman continuum photons (wavelength < 912 A) from star-forming regions has eluded us. To identify such galaxies and to understand the process of the escape of Lyman continuum, we present an indirect technique known as the residual flux technique. Using this technique, we identified (and later confirmed) the first low-redshift galaxy that has an escape fraction of ionizing flux of 21%. This leaky galaxy provides us with valuable insights into the physics of starburst-driven feedback. In addition, since direct detection of ionizing flux is impossible at the epoch of reionization, the residual flux technique presents a highly valuable tool for future studies to be conducted with the upcoming large telescopes such as the JWST.