“Remote Materials Characterization: Implications for Planetary Habitability”
A set of investigations is underway which involves assessment of planetary surface structure and composition through infrared spectral analysis. The primary goal is an evaluation of the astrobiological potential of Mars and Europa, with extensions to other solar and extrasolar bodies. Each investigation has a laboratory and a remote-sensing component. The development of techniques for infrared identification of planetary surface and atmospheric components hinges upon accurate characterization of these constituents under controlled conditions.The first task focuses on composition of icy satellite surfaces, and particularly upon the astrobiological potential of Europa as expressed in surface deposits of hydrated materials. The laboratory component involves infrared measurements of inorganic and organic volatiles as well as biological specimens under relevant conditions using a cryogenic environment chamber developed by the PI. The remote sensing component involves comparing these measurements to Galileo Near-Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (NIMS) observations of Europa and the other Galilean satellites. The second task focuses on the search for evidence of past aqueous environments on Mars. The laboratory component will involve spectral studies of putative Martian surface components, including aqueous mineral compounds and evaporite brines. The remote sensing component will incorporate data from the Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Odyssey instruments to identify potential paleolake basins and to assess their compositions. The third task focuses on characterization of infrared characteristics of extremophilic organisms and comparison to remote-sensing data of terrestrial and planetary environments.