2000 Annual Science Report

Arizona State University Reporting  |  JUL 1999 – JUN 2000

Exploring the Living Universe: Origin, Evolution and Distribution of Life in the Solar System

Project Summary
4 Institutions
3 Teams
0 Publications
0 Field Sites
Field Sites

Project Progress

ASU’s commitment to establish a new, cutting edge ion probe facility on campus (Geology Dept.) was met last Fall. The new instrument contributed to the discovery of aqueous alteration processes in carbonaceous meteorites (Co-I Leshin and Post-doc Benedix), which provides an important context for understanding extraterrestrial pre-biotic chemistry. This discovery advanced our goal to determine the nature of conditions on the parent bodies of carbonaceous meteorites.

Another part of the ASU commitment to Astrobiology was met this year with the hire of geomicrobiologist Ferran Garcia-Pichel who represents an important interdisciplinary bridge between Geology, Chemistry and Biology/Microbiology.

Our goal to understand the origin and evolution of photosynthesis (Co-I Blankenship) was advanced this past year with the development of a model system for early cells constructed using an artificial reaction center and an ATP-synthase enzyme incorporated in a liposome. The model successfully carried out high rates light-driven ATP synthesis.

Our goal to understand the potential of hydrothermal environments to produce complex pre-biotic organic compounds (Co-I’s Holloway and O’Day; grad student Vogelsonger) paid off this year with the synthesis of metastable methanol under seafloor hydrothermal conditions, a process predicted by current thermodynamic models.

The Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES), presently mapping from Mars orbit discovered several deposits of coarsely crystalline (“specular”) hematite (Fe-oxide) which only forms on Earth in the presence of abundant water and usually at elevated temperatures (Co-I Christensen, et al.). This marks an important step in defining potential landing sites for future landed missions for Astrobiology. Remote sensing analog studies for Mars were carried out in Death Valley (Co-I Farmer and Postdoc Moersch) and revealed that a spatial resolution of ~100 m/pixel is required to detect evaporite minerals (carbonates and sulfates) using mid-IR. TES maps at 3 km/pixel, indicating the need to fly higher spatial resolution instruments in the future.