Astroblog Magma Ocean

NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI)

The Research

The NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) Carnegie Team focuses on life’s chemical and physical evolution, from the interstellar medium, through planetary systems, to the emergence and detection of life by studying extrasolar planets, solar system formation, organic rich primitive planetary bodies, deep sequestration of CHON volatiles in terrestrial planets, prebiotic molecular synthesis through geocatalysis, and the connection between planetary evolution to the emergence, and sustenance of biology. This program attempts to integrate the sweeping narrative of life’s history through a combination of bottom-up and top-down studies. On the one hand, this team studies processes related to chemical and physical evolution in plausible prebiotic environments – circumstellar disks, extrasolar planetary systems and the primitive Earth. Complementary to these bottom-up investigations of life’s origin, they will continue this field and experimental top-down efforts to document the nature of microbial life at extreme conditions, as well as the characterization of organic matter in ancient fossils. Both types of efforts inform the development of biotechnological approaches to life detection on other worlds.
Planet alignment. (Photo courtesy of Stanford University)
Yuris Planet
(Credit: Technophilic Magazine)

How are we researching astrobiological pathways?

  • Applying theory and observations to investigate the nature and distribution of extrasolar planets both through radial velocity and astrometric methods, the composition of circumstellar disks, early mixing and transport in young disks, and late mixing and planetary migration in the Solar System, and Solar System bodies.
  • Studying volatile and organic rich Solar System Bodies by focusing on astronomical surveying of outer solar system objects and performing in-house analyses of meteorite, interplanetary dust particle, and Comet Wild 2/81P samples.
  • Studying the origin and evolution of the terrestrial planets with a special emphasis on CHON volatiles, their delivery, and retention in the deep interiors of terrestrial planets.
  • Investigating the geochemical steps that may have lead to the origin of life, focusing on identifying and characterizing mineral catalyzed organic reaction networks that lead from simple volatiles, e.g., CO2 , NH3, and H2, up to greater molecular complexity.
  • Exploring how sub-seafloor interactions support deep ocean hydrothermal ecosystems; studying life’s adaption to extremes of pressure, cold, and salinity; and adapting and applying multiple isotopic sulfur geochemistry towards the understanding of microbial metabolism and as a means of detecting ancient metabolisms recorded in the rock record
  • Coordinating advanced instrument testing for the Arctic Mars Analogue Svalbard Expedition (AMASE) in support of Mars Science Laboratory, including ChemMin, SAM, and elements of the ExoMars payload including Raman and Life Marker Chip Instruments.